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The Privacy Advisor | Biden appoints Christopher Hoff to oversee Privacy Shield talks Related reading: California bill on universal opt-out mechanisms introduced



The Biden administration has selected a privacy veteran for the key post overseeing negotiations for a replacement Privacy Shield. Christopher Hoff, CIPP/E, CIPP/US, CIPM, will serve as deputy assistant secretary for services at the U.S. Department of Commerce, beginning his tenure on inauguration day. Hoff will now become the European Commission’s primary interlocutor in discussions on a framework to protect commercial transfers of personal information across the Atlantic following the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision to invalidate the Privacy Shield’s adequacy determination last summer.

He replaces outgoing DAS Jim Sullivan.

Signaling the importance of privacy

By filling this position on day one, the Biden administration has signaled its intention to focus on privacy policy in the international realm and the critical importance of global data flows.

Most other Commerce Department appointments have yet to be made and will likely be announced in the days, weeks and months ahead. While new administrations sometimes fill DAS positions more quickly than others because they do not require Senate confirmation, and while the transition team has been “prodigious on the hiring front,” such early appointments are still not the norm.

Under the Trump administration, which saw delays in many appointments, the DAS for services was not in place for approximately six months.

Early in the Obama administration, the framework’s predecessor Safe Harbor was overseen by the DAS for manufacturing, whose remit concentrated on widgets far more than data. While the Obama administration devoted significant attention to developing a U.S. privacy blueprint, Safe Harbor was not overseen by an appointee well-versed in digital services or privacy until the appointment of Ted Dean as DAS in 2013, who then led negotiations to develop the Privacy Shield. Dean has been part of President-elect Biden’s transition team.

Today, selecting a seasoned privacy professional for this position seems the obvious choice. Hoff will lead the office that manages the Privacy Shield program and U.S. government work to promote cross-border data protection and transfers in the commercial realm — in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the G-20, trade talks and elsewhere. However, that is far from the DAS’ only responsibility. The 60 or so industry experts, trade specialists, policy analysts and economists he will oversee lead the International Trade Administration’s work on services generally, including supply chain and financial services. With privacy now at the forefront of international discussions on digital services, though, focusing on this policy issue will clearly be a priority.

Who is Christopher Hoff?

Hoff has had a decade-long career in privacy, spanning the U.S. He began his work in the field in one of the offices he will now manage, as a presidential management fellow and policy advisor on data flows and privacy. During his three-year tenure at Commerce, Hoff served as chair of the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules System Joint Oversight Panel and led APEC’s work to finalize the APEC Privacy Recognition for Processors.

Josh Harris, who worked closely with Hoff at Commerce and now serves as director of global privacy initiatives for BBB National Programs, said, “Chris’ unique experience in global privacy issues, not only in Europe, but also in Asia and elsewhere, makes him ideally suited for this role.” As part of his fellowship with Commerce, Hoff also worked for six months in the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.

Following his time in government, Hoff worked in Crowell & Moring Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice in Washington, D.C., and with Squire Patton Boggs, advising clients across the country. In between, he did a stint as director of regulatory affairs at OneTrust.  

Hoff most recently served as the chief privacy officer of Huron, a Chicago, Illinois–headquartered publicly traded professional services firm with offices throughout the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Switzerland, India and Singapore.

Given his background, Hoff is familiar with both the issues and many of the individuals with whom he will now work closely. That expertise will certainly be needed, as Hoff is expected to dive into interagency, bilateral and multilateral talks quickly in an effort to find a more lasting solution to the significant uncertainty plaguing the international data protection landscape.

More to come

Hoff’s appointment is one of many the new administration will make with the potential to guide the U.S.’s privacy policy landscape. Other agencies, too, including the FTC, Federal Communications Commission, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Body, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Office of Management and Budget, and State Department, among others will see appointments with the potential to play big roles in this space.

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

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  • comment Matthew Joseph • Jan 21, 2021
    Congratulations Chris!! I'm very excited for you.
  • comment Louis-Philippe Loncke • Jan 22, 2021
    1) Talk directly with Schrems :)
    2) Drop the name "Privacy Shield", a shield is too weak, let's create a "Privacy Bunker"