David Harris Flaherty would have become a towering figure in any professional field. He chose privacy and information policy as his vocation and his cause. The resulting career helped make privacy a public matter. And it paved the way for all of us who work as today’s privacy professionals. We owe him a debt of gratitude for evolving a new field of work — one that continues to grow and evolve, thanks in part to his influence.
David’s scholarship in the management of privacy and information policy began with his graduate work at Columbia University in the 1960s. There, he studied with Alan Westin, the man who defined information privacy as a foundational right. David went on to lead his own students for three and a half decades, while teaching at the Universities of Princeton and Virginia in the U.S., and the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He published many books and essays that pushed at the limits of legal history and policy knowledge, including "Privacy in Colonial New England" (1972) and "Protecting Privacy in Surveillance Societies" (1989).
Moving beyond academia, David consulted on privacy compliance for decades and served as the first Information and Privacy Commissioner in British Columbia (1993-99). He was the sort of rare individual cut out to be a first: brilliant administrator with infectious vision and the requisite self esteem. The province’s inaugural commissioner put British Columbia on the map by hosting one of the first international gatherings of his counterparts.
David advanced our field by training and mentoring others. This is his true legacy. Right up to the final days of his long life, he kept pushing me to pursue ever more ambitious goals. Even so, he disliked privacy "zealots" and insisted (rather fervently) on the need for pragmatism. Lessons drawn from his practical advice and critical insights have guided me, my fellow BC and Canadian Commissioners, and countless privacy professionals in our work.
Following my dear friend and mentor’s passing on Oct. 11, 2022, I find it easier by far to say "thank you" than "goodbye."
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