Washington Privacy Modeling Tool Goes Live

The platform meant to help agencies build privacy protections into their programs is set to exit beta stage on Feb. 3.

After several months in its beta phase, the state of Washington’s Privacy Modeling Tool officially launches on Friday, Feb. 3.

State officials plan to make the announcement during the Start with Privacy conference at the University of Washington, an event sponsored by the Office of Privacy and Data Protection and the university’s School of Law Technology Policy Lab. The one-day conference will focus on security, data policy and protections.

Chief Privacy Officer Alex Alben told Government Technology that the tool has undergone some refinements since its beta launch in late 2016, but is now largely ready to stand on its own. 

When the Web-based application launched last year, Alben said at the time
that the modeling resource was not so much an end-all legal authority for agencies as it was a starting point for the larger conversation around data use and constituent protections.

And while the platform may have changed here and there, his hope that agencies embrace “privacy by design” remain unaltered. 

“We start people along a path of thinking about the whole lifecycle of data, when they are designing a new service that uses citizens’ personal information,” he said. 

The application is built around a four-step process, which requires an organization to select its  reasons for using data (i.e., law enforcement, etc.), the types of information being leveraged (i.e., Social Security, gender, etc.) and the intended uses before being given results. The results tell the user where the program might run affront of state or federal laws. 

“The state is never going to have 50 people working in the privacy office, so how do you scale a few people and their expertise across state government? You can only do that if you put the tools in the hands of people to do their own privacy work,” he said. “The first step of that is to understand what the privacy laws are that relate to whatever kind of service you are trying to create.” 

To develop what Alben said he believes to be a first-of-its-kind government application, he employed the services of law students, who compiled a database of pertinent state laws. 

Initial interest from other states and jurisdictions kicked off conversation about how to make the modeling platform available to those outside of Washington. To that end, Alben said the framework will eventually be open source and available to other organizations to build the privacy laws that apply to their states.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.