If there's anyone whose resume raises the proverbial eyebrows on data protection and privacy, Cam Kerry is certainly up there. His most recent achievements include an appointment as U.S. Acting Secretary of Commerce, where he negotiated with Europe's highest leadership on such make-or-break commerce agreements as Safe Harbor, and as general counsel of the Department of Commerce (DOC) before that, nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
The guy knows data protection and its importance to global commerce.
That's why Sidley Austin didn't waste time scooping Kerry up for its Privacy, Data Security and Information Law team, where he'll counsel clients on corporate cybersecurity preparedness, global data protection compliance programs, cross-border data transfers, big data and binding corporate rules, among other risks.
Alan Raul, Sidley Austin's lead global coordinator, said Kerry was a great catch for the firm, a sentiment echoed by many lawyers and government officials upon hearing the news.
“Our ability to attract an individual of the stature of Cam Kerry to the practice is something we’re very proud about and that is going to be very important to us," he said. "Certainly he has been one of the leading figures in privacy and around the world, and I think it reflects the possibility for a continued great expansion.”
Kerry has much in common with his new colleagues. Raul himself served as vice chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Then there's Ed McNicholas and Karen Popp, both former White House counsels, and Andy Strenio and Bill Blumenthal, formerly of the Federal Trade Commission.
Veterans like that with their names on the doors is part of what attracted Kerry to the firm, he said. And it's no accident that those who've worked in government transition well to the kind of role Kerry will play now.
Sometimes, in advancing clients' interests, Raul and his colleagues find themselves pushing back against the same government they once worked for. Having served in government leadership positions, Raul said, gives the attorneys a unique perspective: a respect and admiration for the hard job people in government do. Their job histories contribute to a "respect for the regulators, respect for the agencies and an understanding of where they are coming from" and what their missions are, Raul said.
One of those push-and-pull situations between regulators and global firms is the aforementioned Safe Harbor agreement, which the (DOC) is working hard to keep afloat despite threats from Europe, some as recently as this week.
Kerry said, based on his experience, he expects Safe Harbor to continue as it's a "vital agreement to information flows across the Atlantic that are critical to the world's largest trading relationship."
He added both sides have an interest in seeing it continue, and he thinks many of the concerns the European Commission has raised over the agreement have been answered.
Kerry said privacy is bigger than a simple compliance issue now. It's become a public policy issue, a trend to which Sidley Austin has responded by focusing on global data transfers, transnational regulatory investigations and services that respond to the increasingly complex global environment.
One of the things we’ve found at the Commerce Department is that although this issue isn’t front-and-center, when something happens, people care about it.
Sidley Austin opened its doors in 1998 as an Internet and e-commerce technology practice, but as the years progressed, privacy and security issues became predominant, and the firm grew its team as a result.
"As governments around the world deal with the increased importance of information networks and the data that flows over those networks ... these issues increasingly are moving to the tops of national agendas," Kerry said.
And it's certainly a top-tier issue for the private sector.
"If you look at the steps that companies are taking to publicize their privacy practices, there's a huge recognition of the importance of maintaining trust," he said. "And that's privacy, and that's security."
Despite the fact that privacy is increasingly important to governments, neither Raul nor Kerry expect privacy to necessarily be a leading issue in upcoming political campaigns. However, recent headlines might make waves during the U.S. primaries, leading to a debate that might shine a spotlight on the issues privacy pros hold near and dear. Snowden helped with that.
"In the primaries, it wouldn’t surprise me to have different points of view between the right trade-offs in the context of national security and law enforcement," Raul said. "And then of course there’s the cybersecurity dimension, where there’s not a partisan divide and we are experiencing an epidemic of attacks on the country’s personal information, account information, critical infrastructure and network assets, either by organized crime or actors outside of the United States, and the government’s response to that is really important. I think it will be discussed in the campaign."
Kerry said while privacy might not be rolling off the tongue of the citizenry on a regular basis, its stock rises when something big happens, like a breach.
“One of the things we’ve found at the Commerce Department is that although this issue isn’t front-and-center, when something happens, people care about it," Kerry said. "And I think that’s increasingly true, because everybody goes online, so many people have devices that are generating data and are concerned about what happened with their data. I think a great example of that is the Supreme Court decision on cell phones … these are widespread concerns, and it does matter to people.”
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