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WV Legislature Interim Report: Joint Committee on Technology hears discussion on digital privacy rights

By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Technology met Monday during the first day of the legislature’s December interim session. The meeting began with an “introduction to digital privacy rights,” provided by Pooja Tolani, who is with Microsoft’s Public Policy Team.

“Microsoft has been calling for comprehensive privacy legislation since 2005, so this is not a new issue for us,” Tolani began. “We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, and that people and organizations should have control over their data and have meaningful choices in how it’s used.” 

Tolani explained that as more and more people develop a digital presence, the right to privacy has become “more urgent than ever.”

“Privacy is the foundation of trust,” Tolani continued. “People will only use technology that they trust. Ultimately, we believe that trust is created when people are confident that their personal data is safe, and that they have a clear understanding of how and when it is used.”

Tolani further stated that the European Union (EU) is considered to be the “Gold Standard with their comprehensive privacy law,” explaining the EU has taken “more of an omnibus approach to privacy.”

“They have actually been regulating consumer data privacy for almost three-decades,” Tolani noted, before adding that Microsoft has adopted a similar methodology for safeguarding consumer data. 

While the United States does not yet have a “comprehensive data privacy law,” there are five “federal sectoral privacy laws” currently in effect. According to Tolani, those five laws “regulate in the financial services industry, the health industry, children’s online privacy protection, the fair credit reporting act, and also various state consumer protection statutes.”

“The issue with this is that things are constantly evolving,” Tolani said. “There are certain aspects that these laws don’t cover.”

Tolani further stated that Microsoft believes that any strong privacy law “should hold companies accountable.” Of the 50 states, only California, Virginia, Colorado, Utah and Connecticut presently have comprehensive privacy laws. 

The next piece of business before the committee was a presentation regarding digitization efforts within state government, provided by Chuck Flannery, chief of staff and deputy secretary of the W.Va. Secretary of State’s (SOS) office. 

“I’m going to start with the closing message, I’m going to put that right up front,” Flannery told the committee. “What’s the return on investment? It’s the knowledge presentation – it’s delivering the message beyond our agency’s borders. It’s looking at the customer. The customer is not looking for a location that they can go on every agency’s website to find a solution – they just want the solution.”

“The knowledge presentation is the key to efficiency in customer satisfaction,” Flannery continued, before explaining that digitizing government records, and digitizing the “institutional knowledge” possessed by employees are the two primary ways that the SOS office is attempting to reach that goal. 

“The goal here is to deliver (the needed information) to the customer – 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, 365-days a year – in one (online) location,” Flannery added. 

The day’s final presenter was West Virginia’s Chancellor of Higher Education, Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, who provided committee members with a “robust” overview of higher education opportunities within the state with regard to job-demand.

“The way that I look at job demand initially, is that I go through a program called EMSI (Occupational Employment Earnings and Methodology),” Tucker said. “EMSI predicts, based upon past behaviors, what the jobs are that exist in the state, and what those jobs are going to be.” 

Tucker explained that in preparation of her report to the committee, “high-level IT (information technology) jobs,” including computer systems and information security analyst positions, were used as the template for review.

“I also really wanted to look at what happens as we expand broadband in the state,” Tucker noted. “While that may not be considered IT, I certainly consider it IT. We need to make sure that we have the folks in place who are able to hang the fiber.”

According to Tucker, job openings in the IT field will continue to grow throughout West Virginia, and the wages for IT workers are “very good.”

Tucker further stated that 57 undergraduate IT programs are offered across the state, with “just over 2,000 students enrolled as an unduplicated head-count in some form of IT programming,” before adding, “and I would argue that we should have far more.”

“In addition to those undergraduate degree programs, we also offer a number of short term training programs,” Tucker said. “They’re typically about six-months.”

According to Tucker, approximately 430 IT students complete either undergraduate or short term programs in West Virginia each year. 

“That’s pretty standard when you think that we have 2,000 students from freshman to seniors, and community colleges included in that number,” Tucker concluded. “Again, I want those numbers to be significantly higher to meet the workforce needs.” 

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