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Mike Shapiro

Former Chief Privacy Officer, Santa Clara, Calif.

Former Santa Clara County Chief Privacy Officer Mike Shapiro
Mike Shapiro became Santa Clara’s first chief privacy officer (CPO) at a time when few counties had such a role. He brought a background in privacy consulting for corporate, federal, civilian and state government clients. With the county, he helped its 40-odd departments maintain the privacy of sensitive data, ranging from voting rolls to information on domestic violence victims.

A CPO needs to both safeguard privacy rights and understand which privacy concerns matter to residents.

“That trust component is essential, because if you don’t have that, the rest of it really isn’t going to matter too much,” Shapiro said.

Resident worries have led to outreach about contact tracing apps’ privacy features and discussions over facial recognition technology, for example.

Shapiro joined Santa Clara in 2017, when the county was amending its surveillance technology ordinance. As part of that, all 80 existing surveillance-use policies needed privacy vetting — which, given Shapiro was still a team of one, meant he was soon poring through them. It proved to be a crash course in the array of technology at play, and the county developed a vetting program and user guide.

Another major initiative: creating a Privacy Center of Excellence, which offers training and connects chief data officers, CPOs and others in sharing ideas.

Looking ahead, Shapiro said CPOs will need to focus on juggling keeping governments’ ever-growing data collections private while also finding safe ways to use it to benefit residents, such as by proactively offering relevant services.

“We have an enormous amount of data to where we could make those connections to try to help people out, instead of having people figure out this really large bureaucracy … but how can we do that responsibly, do it in a way that we’re complying with the law, do it in a way that we respect the rights of people who may or may not want to share that data?” Shapiro said. “That’s going to be one of the biggest things going into 2022 and beyond.”

Shapiro left Santa Clara County in January 2022 for a position in the private sector.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.