Web App Helps Wash. Agencies Navigate Privacy Laws

Nov 28, 2016

The Washington State Office of Privacy and Data Protection has launched a web-based application to help agencies navigate federal and state privacy laws.

The app is called Privacy Modeling. Alex Alben is the state's chief privacy officer and the person behind Privacy Modeling.

Privacy law is complex because there are several laws that govern how businesses and government agencies can use personal information. That complexity often puts privacy on the back burner when those agencies design products, Alben said.

"In order to make sense of this chaotic environment of data, companies, state agencies and others need to start building products with privacy in mind," Alben said. "And the first question is, 'What are the boundaries?'"

Privacy Modeling takes users through a series of tiles that ask questions about the type of organization, the type of information collected, and how the organization wants to use that information. It also includes broad guidelines for ways to protect that information.

The app isn't supposed to be the final word on privacy, Alben said. It's supposed to be a starting point to begin a conversation between those who are collecting data and those who are using it.

"We need a different set of rules for the digital environment with respect to how we store, keep and process personal data," Alben said.

While there is a similar tool that covers federal law for mobile health app developers, Alben said Privacy Modeling is the only app that covers state and federal privacy laws more generally.