Privacy Laws & Business is celebrating its 30th Anniversary as an international privacy law information service.
Led by Stewart Dresner, PL&B didn’t start as a firm, however. Rather, it was the brainchild of then-business journalist Dresner, who found the proliferation of privacy and data protection laws interesting enough that he pitched the idea of a privacy-centric publication to his editors at "The Economist."
At the time, they argued it was “too niche" as an independent publication. They remained unconvinced privacy would be anything beyond a fringe discipline.
The result was the "Privacy Laws & Business Newsletter," the world’s first international privacy law publication. (U.S.-focused "Privacy Journal" has been published by Robert Ellis Smith since 1974). Dresner’s preternatural hunch that the subject was up-and-coming proved right, with the publication garnering attention and sales in many countries.
While Dresner would eventually prove "The Economist" management wrong, that didn’t mean that in the fledgling years of his publication-turned-business that he didn’t have to put in a significant amount of elbow grease.
After taking a leap, leaving his position as a business journalist and establishing Privacy Laws & Business, the entity, it was just Dresner running things behind the scenes, oftentimes with the help of his wife and a few part time workers. More employees joined as the years went on.
Privacy Laws & Business’ first significant event was an "intimate" data protection conference in London in 1988, with data protection policy makers from the Netherlands (Peter Hustinx, before becoming head of the Netherlands Data Protection Authority), Ireland, and Switzerland having discussions with attendees on hot topics in the privacy world. Before long, the small business morphed into a larger organization that provides training, annual conferences of all shapes, and now monthly publications ("Privacy Laws & Business Reports") written by an ever increasing group of contributors from many countries. While privacy concerns have changed significantly since the birth of the internet, the heart of the issues corporations face hasn't changed, Dresner said. “Privacy aware managers are still certainly worried about how far the collection of personal data is acceptable and how explicit individuals’ consent for use of their personal data needs to be,” he said.
His fundamental advice hasn't changed, either. “Go beyond compliance mode,” he advised. “Certainly take note of the requirements of the law, but think positively and productively, and think of how privacy could be a competitive advantage instead of a burden.” That way, organizations are able to “win the hearts and minds of clients and employees,” he added.
Companies shouldn't be afraid of the “moral dimension” of privacy, either, Dresner said. “There needs to be a greater awareness of what’s right, in addition to what can be done legally. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should.”
In time, PL&B progressively became a global power player, with 2,000+ clients representing all industries across more than 50 countries. These numbers are a goal realized but still expanding. “The mission was to cover privacy laws and their impact on
business in as many countries as we could find. In February 2017, our 30th Anniversary month, we published a survey of 120 countries with privacy laws and 31 with privacy Bills, up from 10 countries in our first edition in February 1987,” Dresner said.
The firm also has made a habit of staying close to international regulators, for both input and perspective at PL&B conferences. “We meet national privacy commissioners in their countries ... and that has resulted in a series of roundtables, starting in 2003, in 17 different countries, where we hear from the top commissioners and their senior staff and get to understand and grapple with the issues that are important in that country,” he said. “It’s quite different from a lawyer in a country saying what a law is. We get to hear how the data protection authorities interpret the law, and it makes for productive conversations in which our clients can explore gray areas of the laws.”
These relationships also help develop good resources, he said. In fact, PL&B was responsible for conducting on behalf of the European Commission a host of EU adequacy assessments for many countries and for the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor. “We knew the weakness of Safe Harbor in the early days,” Dresner said.
Looking forward, Dresner is determined to keep on keeping on.
“We have a very high level of loyalty,” he said. “People like what we do. They use us as one of their information sources. They keep renewing their subscriptions, keep coming to our conferences, and relying on our expertise. It helps maintain our enthusiasm.”
Even as more players join the scene, Dresner is happy to share Privacy Laws & Business’s wealth of knowledge, and vice versa. “The cake is expanding," he said. "There are slices for everyone, so that everyone can join the party.”
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