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The Privacy Advisor | Elizabeth Denham named IAPP’s 2022 Leadership Award winner  Related reading: Nicole Wong receives 2021 IAPP Privacy Leadership Award



The International Association of Privacy Professionals named Elizabeth Denham the recipient of its 2022 Privacy Leadership Award. Denham, former U.K. information commissioner, received the award during the IAPP Global Privacy Summit 2022 in Washington, D.C.

The IAPP Leadership Award is given annually to individuals with an “ongoing commitment to furthering privacy policy, promoting recognition of privacy issues and advancing the growth and visibility of the privacy profession.”

“It’s an incredible privilege,” said Denham, who last fall ended a five-year term at the ICO. “It’s incredible recognition because when I look at my colleagues who have also received this award — the outstanding Nicole Wong who has been such a leader for a long period of time, and then my mentors in the field like Giovanni Buttarelli — it’s astonishing and it’s a deep privilege for me.”

Elizabeth Denham is the recipient of the 2022 IAPP Privacy Leadership Award.

Appointed to the U.K. role in 2016, Denham oversaw implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation when it took effect in 2018, conducted investigations and enforcement actions against large technology companies, and helped the U.K. retain its adequacy status following Brexit. She also served as chair of the Global Privacy Assembly for three years, some of that time during a worldwide pandemic, and in 2019 was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year’s Honours list for services to protecting information.

Denham’s work and influence on the privacy community extends even further than that, but she said, her proudest accomplishment of all has been crafting the U.K. Children’s Code. The code, which establishes a code of practice for online services likely to be accessed by children, is influencing regulatory reforms around the world, including the U.S. where lawmakers have called for similar protections. In California, a proposed bill mirrors the U.K. Children’s Code.  

“The internet wasn’t designed for young users, so we need to import offline protections that many take for granted in the online world,” Denham said. “Children must be able to freely play, learn and experiment with their agency online. Internet services need to be designed around the rights of children. Keeping young people off the internet for their own safety is not the solution. We must ensure their safe passage through the digital world.”

Most recently, Denham was appointed to the IAPP Board of Directors and joined Baker McKenzie as international consultant, data and tech. She is also involved in charitable and academic organizations, including a group focused on putting children’s needs and rights at the center of digital design.

Denham said she continues to be interested and focused on increasing overlaps across content moderation, anti-trust law and privacy regulation.

“When it comes to digital platforms, all three areas come into play. So, we need coherence and consistency in terms of oversight. In the past, silos divided regulating content, ensuring fair competition and policing abuses of privacy. In the wake of massive internet companies, those partitions have fallen away. In response, we need to develop comprehensive and harmonious processes to address content, competition and the use of personal information,” she said. “We must not present a binary choice between innovation or privacy. Instead, regulators and other professionals must promote innovation and protect privacy simultaneously.”

In the early days of her career, Denham said there was no such career path as being a privacy regulator, and it wasn’t a trajectory she could foresee, but she had a passion for data — for not only making it available but used responsibly — that she said is “a part of my DNA.” That passion has led to an “incredible” career that began as a city archivist and then privacy coordinator for a health region. Denham then served as information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia and assistant privacy commissioner of Canada.

“Sometimes I think I’ve been blessed by being at the right place at the right time … My career happened because I was at the forefront of information management and information governance which led to the need for freedom of information and data protection legislation,” said Denham, adding the only technology course available when she as studying at the University of British Columbia was called “machine readable records.” “Little did I know, fast forward 25 years, that I would have such an astonishing career and responsibility, especially for my last role as information commissioner for the United Kingdom.”

While she’s driven by many things, Denham said the opportunity to help people — especially vulnerable populations around access to information and privacy rights — has “given me the most satisfaction in my career.”

“I think you will have seen some of the work I have done in the U.K. and Canada has been focused on vulnerable populations, the latest being my passion for children’s rights online,” she said. “I really think it’s the people, its vulnerable populations, and certainly we’re all vulnerable at some time in our lives.”

As for the reasoning behind Denham’s receipt of the 2022 Privacy Leadership Award, IAPP President and CEO J. Trevor Hughes said she is “a shining example of leadership in the privacy field.”

“In her native Canada, in the U.K., and on a global basis through the Global Privacy Assembly, she has demonstrated a steadfast focus on protecting privacy while navigating the rapidly changing technological and political realms,” he said.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

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