Arkansas hires its first chief privacy officer

Jennifer Davis, an attorney and former software developer, says she hopes to support data efforts and build trust with citizens so they'll feel comfortable using state services.

Arkansas’ new data team now includes a chief privacy officer, officials from the state’s technology office announced Wednesday.

Jennifer Davis, an attorney who most recently worked as a legal adviser for Arkansas Department of Education, will serve as the state Department of Information Systems’ first chief privacy officer. Davis will work alongside the state’s uncompensated chief data officer, Richard Wang, a full-time professor at MIT, to ensure agencies comply with privacy laws and to otherwise overcome privacy challenges associated with new uses of data in the state.

Davis’ hiring follows the passage of a 2017 law calling for the creation of “a panel on data transparency” and the formation of the chief data officer and chief privacy officer roles.

Jennifer Davis


Wang told StateScoop last year that his first steps would be to get agencies to sign data-sharing agreements and then create a statewide data inventory that contains “plain English” explanations of the kinds of data owned by each agency. The idea, he said, was to avoid the data privacy issue at the outset by simply cataloging the types of data available before getting into the actual publication and sharing of potentially sensitive data itself.

In addition hiring Davis, Arkansas was also chosen this month by the National Governors Association as one of eight states to receive mentoring through a new health initiative called “Harnessing the Power of Data to Achieve State Policy Goals,” designed to address issues of governance, data sharing and policy writing.

Before becoming an attorney, Davis worked in application and database development, and while in law school she also worked “on and off” with DIS’s legal counsel. In addition to a combination of legal and technical experience, and working knowledge of the technology agency, Davis told StateScoop she also has experience dealing with data privacy in her personal life when someone stole her father’s identity in 2006.

“It wreaked havoc in his life for a number of years,” Davis said. “The idea of protecting our data has always been important, but I’ve also seen firsthand the results of inadvertent disclosure of data and what it can do to somebody.”

Data privacy is crucial not only from a legal standpoint, she said, but also in support of service delivery.


“We want the citizens to trust that we are protecting their data from inadvertent disclosure and doing the right things with it,” Davis said. “You don’t want citizens to feel like they can’t request the services they may need because of what the state’s going to do with that information.”

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