Survey: The best privacy advisers in 2008

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Louis Branz, CPO at St. Louis-based Edward Jones, told me that cost was a deciding factor. "We have had very good experience working with lawyers like Becky Burr and non-lawyers like Richard Purcell."

Branz added, "We find that they're very willing team players who take the time to get to know us, track what's going on in the world and help us prepare practical solutions to our problems."

Enter Europe

When you have to make your living on privacy, you find out quickly who has money for it. Three years ago, the top answer was not corporations based in Canada, Latin America, Europe or Australia. While these regions preceded the U.S. in adopting comprehensive data-protection legislation and had enough budget to support a handful of local privacy practices, the number of corporate privacy executives and their budgetary authority always paled in comparison to their American counterparts.

But this year was different. I noted a significant increase in the level of European participation in the survey, matching the total for the U.S. Midwest region. Of the Europeans, nearly all were votes by and for U.K.-based firms.

What could be driving this change? A simple explanation could be language and culture. The survey was executed in English, and non-Anglo CPOs could be hesitant about taking an American survey.

A second factor also could be at play. One need look no further than the heightened enforcement and budgetary powers of U.K. Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who has been charged by the prime minister to put a stop to the spate of data breaches occurring in the U.K.

Diversification of the privacy-advice market

The headquarters of survey respondents were fairly evenly distributed among the four U.S. Census Bureau regions and Europe, with the combined area of Canada, Latin America and Asia-Pacific representing a new growth area.

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"The stakes for privacy regulation in the U.K. are currently pretty high," said Eduardo Ustaran, a partner at London-based Field Fisher Waterhouse.

"As the Ministry of Justice acknowledges, the use of information underpins the government's ability to deliver benefits for the citizen," he added. "However, this will only be achievable if people have confidence in the sharing and handling of personal data by both the public and private sectors."

Ruth Boardman, a partner at London-based Bird and Bird, echoed this sentiment. "In the U.K., we will soon see the level of fines available to our commissioner, which will focus compliance efforts," she said.

"The drive for more enforcement in the EU is not just a U.K. issue," she added. "For example, the Belgian Commission has also just announced a commitment to more pro-active enforcement."

As the APEC Privacy Framework gains traction and the Australian Privacy Commissioner gains more clout, watch for the same trend start to unfold down under.


Despite the changes in the economy and in our survey methodology, some results remained constant. When asked why they chose the firms they did, data protection leaders have reported the same answers three years running: They want the right answer, and they want it delivered in practical terms appropriate to their organization's market and culture.

Despite the slowing economy, privacy officers for a third year continue to appear willing to pay a premium for good and practical advice. Of the nine possible choices offered, "good value for the rates charged" has ranked dead last each time (see Table 2).

Table 2: What separates the leaders from the pack

In 2006, I asked CPOs to provide free-text answers to the question "Why did you choose the firm you did for Best Privacy Adviser?" In 2007, I allowed privacy leaders to choose multiple answers from a menu selection. This year, survey respondents could choose only one menu item. Despite the methodology changes, the order of answers remained relatively constant.

Differentiators 2008 2007 2006 Direction
Broad and deep expertise 1 1 1 <->
Practical advice 2 2 2 <->
They understand my business 3 5 6 / /
Global staff and affiliates 4 6 5 /\ /\
Timely and thorough work 5 3 3 V V
Government connections 6 7 7 /
Interdisciplinary perspective 7 8 8 /
Accessible staff 8 4 4 V V V
Good value for the rates charged 9 9 9 <->

<-> indicates no change from the previous year

/ indicates movement one place up since 2007

V indicates movement one place down since 2007
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