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How Can Government Protect Constituents' Digital Privacy?

Digital privacy moves beyond protecting the data we have to ensuring that constituents have knowledge of and a say in how their data is used. So where do state and local governments go from here?

In today’s ever-changing world, things like remote work, cybersecurity, modernization and digital services are evolving faster than ever before. An important part of these technology initiatives is the need to safeguard the digital privacy of our constituents and employees. And while we need to protect constituent data from cyber attacks, digital privacy moves beyond protecting data. We must also ensure that constituents have knowledge of and a say in how their data is used.

So how do state and local governments protect digital privacy, and keep citizen data private and secure? Do governments have the right skill sets and knowledge? We at the Center for Digital Government (CDG) are ready to play a thought leadership and advocacy role in this discussion, providing guidance, bringing experts together, serving as a resource, and creating targeted content through a Digital Privacy Council. This initiative is intended to elevate digital privacy education, take policies and practices to the next level, and engage elected and executive leaders in the digital privacy cause.


The first effort of the council was to create a charter that would help us navigate this very difficult issue. The charter purpose states that “Digital privacy is a nascent and rapidly evolving priority for state and local governments nationwide. As government entities collect more digital information on citizens, privacy has become a focus of varying approaches to government regulation. Cybercrime, new technologies, private uses of personal data, and concerns about the technology policies of rival powers, have led U.S. officials to view privacy as a national concern.” The council agrees that this issue will be a top priority in 2022 for governments of all sizes. It is time to get out in front of the issue as much as possible.


This problem is not a new one but has grown into a more complicated one. Data is flowing from multiple sources while growing exponentially in volume. Adding more complexity is the fact that governments are working on managing this beast with legacy skill sets until the right expertise can be found.

The charter further states, “At the same time, organizations often lack sufficient resources to integrate privacy into government planning, operations, and management of business risk. Maintaining compliance with ever-changing privacy laws and regulations has become a challenging and complex task. A data breach, malicious misuse of data, and inadvertent disclosures can result in significant costs, legal ramifications, and irreparable damage to the trust relationship between individuals and government. Wise local governments are working to create the processes, educational resources, and tools to get ahead of the privacy challenge.” Maintaining the public trust gets more difficult by the day. Gaining that trust can take years, where losing it can happen in the blink of an eye.


The Data Privacy Council will collect and publish a research library of available privacy policies and resources, and aggregate leading organizations' practices into actionable “here’s what to do” guidance. In order to proliferate this knowledge, supporting digital privacy educational and training materials will be developed. This much-needed work will focus on developing models, training and resources that can be used by governments across the nation. We currently have a digital privacy survey (linked here) that gathers much-needed intelligence to help kick-start this effort. Understanding the problem, modeling best practices and training the team are paramount to successfully managing digital privacy.

Governments have been gathering data about people for many years and are now in the position where the data can either benefit their ability to deliver services or be a detriment when put in the wrong hands. Digital privacy will be part of the conversation and part of everything government does for eternity. We are confident the Digital Privacy Council will be that resource that makes a difference. We look forward to sharing more very soon and if our survey reaches you, please tell us what we need to know. As always, we are here to help. Stay tuned and keep watching the Center for Digital Government site for the latest updates.