This summer a small team of privacy professionals, including a team from IBM, came together with the idea of providing nonprofit organizations with free legal advice on responsible and pragmatic practices for protecting individual privacy and data security.

The work led to this month’s pilot launch of the Pro Bono Privacy Initiative, where over a dozen professionals are engaging with a handful of human services agencies in helping them deal with mission-critical privacy and data protection issues.

Recent technological developments have created a real need for every sector, not just nonprofits, to boost attention to privacy and data security.  It is predicted that between 2009 and 2020 the world’s digital data will grow exponentially, 44 times over.  Because it’s digitized, much of that data will be easily accessed and manipulated.

Access to more data brings with it obligations to safeguard it, to meet privacy expectations and to comply with law.  Resulting from the evolving cybersecurity landscape, everyone – even the most sophisticated players – must continue to confront the security challenge.

According to Independent Sector, there are 1.4 million non-profits in the United States serving the broad public interest by providing services such as homeless shelters, domestic violence assistance, and nutrition support. These organizations, like business, are using ever-increasing amounts of data to improve their services and understand and engage their supporters.

As the use of data technology grows, nonprofits increase the likelihood of encountering privacy and personal data security-related issues.  Many would welcome a source of expert assistance, particularly if it came at no cost.

That’s where the Pro Bono Privacy Initiative can help. During the 6-month pilot phase, privacy and security experts will advise participating nonprofit organizations on responsible and pragmatic practices they should consider and follow, to protect individual privacy and data security.

After the pilot ends, the Initiative’s leaders will assess what we’ve learned, and decide how to take this promising idea forward.  I’m not sure where our path will lead, but I’m confident that with the committed group of privacy leaders and advisers assembled, we will have positive impact on our communities and our professions.

If your nonprofit wants more information on the Pro Bono Privacy Initiative, contact the International Association of Privacy Professionals.