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Lawyers are trained in reading, understanding, interpreting and advising on laws and legal compliance programs, and defending their clients from litigants and regulators. Privacy laws, everywhere in the world, are vague, so they leave much room for legal interpretations. The lawyers’ skill set is becoming more and more central to the role of privacy leadership. Moreover, lawyers benefit from attorney-client privileged communications internally, which is becoming an absolutely essential mechanism for privacy lawyers to have deep, unfettered, unfiltered exchanges of information and advice with their clients.

Of course, non-legal disciplines will always play an essential role in safeguarding privacy at companies, e.g., the vital role played by security engineers. Privacy will always be a cross-disciplinary project. I’m not saying that the rise of the lawyer-privacy-leader is necessarily the best thing for “privacy”. Yet in the face of rampant litigation, discovery orders, vague laws, political debates, regulatory actions, threats of billion dollar fines, companies will be looking to their privacy lawyers for a lot more than drafting a privacy policy. It’s a great profession, if you like stretch goals.

* Peter Fleischer, “Stretch Goals for Privacy Lawyers
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Privacy Policies Don’t Need to Be Obtuse

Peter Fleischer has a good summary piece on the (miserable) state of online privacy policies today. As he writes:

Today, privacy policies are being written to try to do two contradictory things.  Like most things in life, if you try to do two contradictory things at the same time, you end up doing neither well.  Here’s the contradiction:  should a privacy policy be a short, simple, readable notice that the average end-user could understand? Or should it be a long, detailed, legalistic disclosure document written for regulators?  Since average users and expert regulators have different expectations about what should be disclosed, the privacy policies in use today largely disappoint both groups.

(…)

The time has come for a global reflection on what, exactly, a privacy policy should look like.  Today, there is no consensus.  I don’t just mean consensus amongst regulators and lawyers.  My suggestion would be to start by doing some serious user-research, and actually ask Johnny and Jean and Johann.

I entirely, fully, wholeheartedly agree: most policies today are absolute garbage. I actually read a lot of them – and research on social media policies will be online and available soon! – and they are more often than not an elaborate act of obfuscation than something that explains, specifically and precisely, what a service does or is doing with the data that is collected.

The thing is, these policies don’t need to be as bad as they are. It really is possible to bridge ‘accessible’ and ‘legalese’ but doing so takes time, care, and effort.

And fewer lawyers.

As a good example of how this can be done check out how Tunnelbear has written their privacy policy: it’s reasonably accessible and lacks a lot of the ‘weasel phrases’ you’ll find in most privacy policies. Even better, read the company’s Terms of Service document; I cannot express how much ‘win’ is captured in their simultaneously legal and layperson disclosure of how and why their service functions as it does.