Why is Privacy Significant to the City of Seattle?

This is the second blog entry regarding the City of Seattle’s Privacy Program. You can read the first blog post, and learn more about Data Privacy Day, here.

The City of Seattle values privacy. As data and digital services become increasingly necessary and expected for governments, we need to meet that challenge by responsibly safeguarding and protecting the public’s personal information. The privacy professionals within the City work daily to balance privacy with the Washington State Public Records Act — (PRA) a Washington state law requiring public access to all records and materials from government entities and public institutions.

A public record is defined as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” (RCW 42.56.010). This includes papers, photos, maps, videos, emails, text messages, databases, social media, and other electronic records.

The law was originally passed as a ballot initiative by voters in 1972. Every state office, officer, department, division, bureau, board and commission, or other state body or agency is covered by the PRA except the state legislature and the courts.

So here we are –the Privacy Team — on a balance beam like gymnasts. We work daily to find the sweet spot between a law designed to aid open and transparent government — and the right to privacy of members of the public.

A Bit About Seattle’s Privacy Team

As the first municipal Privacy Program in the country, we strive to continue to be leaders in the space, holding ourselves to a high standard around responsible collection, management, and protection of personal data. To learn more about our commitments around data privacy, check out the Seattle’s full Privacy Statement.

As part of the Seattle Information Technology Department, we want to enable the use of innovative technologies in order to make government more effective, communicative, open, and easy, while ensuring we are responsible data stewards, meeting our commitments outlaid in our Privacy Principles. One way we accomplish this is by working daily with colleagues to employ industry best practices around data collection, use, security and access, and sharing  in technology adoption and projects that support their mission. And each year we launch a City-wide Privacy & Security Training, introducing these best practices to all City employees, providing them with the resources they needed to employ them in their everyday work.

The Time is Now

In addition to empowering the City to be leaders in data privacy, we also aim to provide resources to the public to learn more about data privacy, and to enable action in their personal lives.

As if we all weren’t online enough prior to the global pandemic, the Covid pandemic has sent us all scurrying collectively down the rabbit hole of way too much screen time; we’re all even more connected than ever. Look at all the devices and the data being fed into them — data which is collected, stored, analyzed, and managed. While it’s starting to stay light out longer now, many of us still spend a great deal of time inside during the week — thinking of our glorious summers or our winter-time snow-covered mountains — but we’re shopping, watching shows, dating online, gaming, ordering food, and talking and interacting on so many different social media platforms.

The time to learn about how to protect your data is now! The City’s Privacy Program is here to help you navigate those waters and protect your personal information online. On the City’s Privacy Program website, you will find tips and tricks you can use to help you protect your personal information online. In our next article we’ll more closely examine the City’s Privacy Statement and Privacy Principles.

By Nathan Merrells, Sr. Privacy Specialist within the Privacy Program at the City of Seattle.