Career Path

Dedication to protecting privacy

by Nicolette Wong

PCPD - Recruiting talent in the privacy protection profession
Allan Chiang, privacy commissioner for personal data
Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Hong Kong
Photo: Nolly Leung
As technology advances at an accelerating pace, personal data is a crucial asset and a powerful tool in social and economic development. The privacy of personal data has become a popular subject in Hong Kong in recent years, since many government departments, corporations and the public are concerned with the use of personal data in various commercial, professional and public settings.

With its mission to secure the protection of privacy of the individual with respect to personal data and to educate the public on the importance of this subject, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) has been rapidly developing in its operation and in its outreach to society in recent years. According to Allan Chiang, privacy commissioner for personal data, the office is actively seeking high-calibre candidates for its expanding operation, especially since the passage last month of the amendments to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.

"We will be working on new rules, regulations and areas of compliance once the amendments come into effect," Mr Chiang explains. "For example, we will be administering a new regulatory regime for direct marketing activities, handling more complaints as a result of an increase in the number of offences under the ordinance, and offering legal assistance to aggrieved persons. At present, we are hiring assistant personal data officers, personal data officers and senior data officers to cover different aspects of our work."

The job duties of personal data officers revolve around investigation and compliance. When the PCPD receives complaints or reports about any potential violation of personal data privacy, the officers investigate the companies or parties in question. The office also actively searches for and examines any malpractice or legal non-compliance in the use of personal data within corporations, which may affect the interests of the public.

"Our job is to ensure that all organisations that handle personal data meet legal compliance. If there are any questions, complications or violations, we work with the companies to arrive at the right solutions, or examine the need for possible legal action," Mr Chiang explains.

Education is another key area of PCPD's workscope. The office provides courses on privacy of personal data for working professionals from different fields, from human resources and sales, to IT and property management. Personal data officers also give lectures and share their work experience with participants. In addition, PCPD promotion officers pay regular visits to local schools to educate student ambassadors on protecting the privacy of personal data.

Talent from diverse backgrounds

While the protection of personal data privacy is a specialised profession, Mr Chiang notes that PCPD welcomes talented candidates from a variety of backgrounds. Those who have worked in the legal field, in dispute resolution or regulatory affairs, in social services or customer services, or in handling public service complaints have a definite advantage. Excellent proficiency in English and Chinese is essential. Outstanding communication skills and an analytical mindset are also key attributes.

"At this point, we are looking to build a team of diverse talents who can contribute their expertise, as we learn from one another and create new synergy," explains Mr Chiang. "There is certainly plenty of room for quality candidates who want to join the profession."

Training is a keyword at PCPD, since newcomers must familiarise themselves with the profession. New recruits can conduct thorough studies using the office's knowledge management system, an archive of all previous PCPD cases. Senior officers also give on-the-job coaching to junior staff on an ongoing basis.

A rewarding career

Mr Chiang points out that, to succeed in this field, candidates must be prepared to invest their time and their capacity for learning and growing with the organisation. "As the sole statutory body overseeing the protection of personal data privacy in Hong Kong, we are dedicated to grooming a strong team of professionals who wish to become specialists. In our profession, talent is not easily replaceable, so there are good opportunities for those who want to achieve long-term success."

A career at PCPD can yield substantial rewards for the right candidates, since the office places the emphasis on internal promotion. PCPD currently has 75 team members, and there have been 17 internal promotions within the past two years. Funded by the government, PCPD also offers competitive salaries for personal data officers that equate to those of civil servants of similar rank.

Mr Chiang stresses that the profession holds tremendous potential for growth, since the protection of personal data privacy is a prominent global trend, particularly in Germany and other European Union countries. In the Asia Pacific, Hong Kong was one of the pioneers in introducing dedicated legislation regarding personal data privacy over a decade ago. A number of other Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and India, have launched ordinances on personal data privacy in the past two years; and Singapore is catching up.

With the constant development of the use of personal data in the public and commercial sectors, Mr Chiang says that change is the most rewarding part of his job. For instance, Mr Chiang and his colleagues have to keep up with all the latest developments in the information and communication technologies, and examine any potential privacy issues that may arise from the use of the Internet, social networking sites and smartphone apps. "The privacy landscape is always evolving, and our work can make a significant difference to people's lives," he concludes.

Taken from Career Times 20 July 2012, B8

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