Is this one of the most complicated positions of the digital age? It’s possible. But obviously the mission doesn’t scare him. On October 1, Florence Henguely will become Federal Deputy Director for Data Protection and Transparency (PFPDT). This 39-year-old Fribourgeois will thus be the number two of an authority at the center of all attention. “It’s true, the issue of data protection affects the whole of society, she smiles. There are expectations from citizens who rightly demand that their confidential information be better protected. Tech giants are constantly changing their services. There is public administration, which is rapidly digitalizing, and for which we often have to remind ourselves of their responsibilities. And the Swiss legal framework, which is also changing…” From September 2023, the new data law will come into force.
It is therefore a titanic mission that awaits Florence Henguely in Bern. But already today, this Master in Law from the University of Fribourg is dealing with all these themes locally. Since 2019, she has been the cantonal data protection officer. “It is clear that some citizens still feel that they have nothing to hide and that the protection of their data is not important. But current events are alerting some of them about processing their data.” Because the situation can change very quickly, continues the official: “Look at the recent judgment of the US Supreme Court authorizing the criminalization of abortion: overnight, citizens in the United States realize that location data or web searches can be used against them. Protecting our data is critical.”
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ultra sensitive files
In Freiburg, Florence Henguely already deals with ultrasensitive archives. Especially in the school area. “Parents contact us to see if they can object to the publication of photos of their children in relation to school activities. Others ask us if creating WhatsApp groups for their children is a good idea – we advise against it, because the data goes abroad and because of cyberbullying issues”, continues Florence Henguely. There are also acute issues in the professional environment. “Take a discussion group on a social network that includes state officials: if one of them is on sick leave and publishes pictures of him on the beach in his “statutes”, this can cause deep discomfort. We are here to answer all those questions.”
Even more down to earth, there is the issue of video surveillance. “More and more individuals, but also management, want to install cameras, which raises many questions. But the good news is that they have the reflex to consult our authority before acting. And we see that citizens are trying to do what is right.”
For the rest, an aspirin is almost necessary. Because Florence Henguely must also analyze certain practices of municipal administrations, even cantonal ones. “There is a significant trend to outsource IT, even data processing, she explains. And these external providers need to be examined. But not everyone has the same definition of a subcontractor…” Another dossier occupies the cantonal official, cyber attacks. “There is a real and justified fear of many citizens regarding their personal data if their municipality or canton is hacked: we must support the contingency plans put in place to limit the attacks, so that the administration continues to function and that the information held by the administration are protected”.
Choices to be made
In Freiburg, Florence Henguely is almost alone, at an operational level, managing these files: 80% of her work (the remaining 20% is dedicated to training) and is assisted by a lawyer specializing in data protection. Sometimes interns also support him. It’s little, very little. “New files constantly arrive at our desk. And we have to set priorities, that’s obvious. This is our case, it is the case for agents in other cantons. That’s how we’re doing the best we can given the circumstances and resources available.”
In Bern, it has a team of around thirty people. Deputy Federal Agent Adrian Lobsiger, Florence Henguely, will also have to make choices. “The field of intervention, at the federal level, is logically greater, as the federal administration, but also the private sector, are under our surveillance. My job will also consist of serving as a liaison point for all Romand level agents. And the tasks will not be lacking: in recent months we have seen the federal official take a stand and investigate the collection of contact data for tracing infections linked to covid in the cantons of Vaud and Valais, the endangered site Mesvaccins . ch or even the hacking of medical practices in Neuchâtel, revealed by Time🇧🇷
In this topic: The medical data of thousands of Neuchâtel residents has been put online
a clear opinion
Adrian Lobsiger’s services were sometimes accused of lax handling, sometimes considered too long, of the processes. What does your future employee think? “First, reviewing complex cases takes time. Take, for example, Suva’s desire to outsource personal data through a Microsoft-operated cloud: The executive took a major stand, urging Suva to quickly reassess his project.
Logically, Florence Henguely does not want to give political color to her action. But she already has a clear opinion on data management. “We have excellent IT skills in Switzerland, top schools, favoring local solutions allows for better data governance and control.”
In a very masculine environment, does Florence Henguely feel like a role model for women? “I was a legal advisor at the Agricultural Institute of the State of Freiburg, a very masculine environment. Today I see that I have female counterparts, mainly in Zurich, in the cantons of Vaud and Solothurn”.
1983 Born in Freiburg.
2013 Master in Law from the Faculty of Law of the University of Freiburg.
2014-2019 Specialist lawyer of the Cantonal Authority for Transparency, Data Protection and Mediation (ATPrDM) with 50%.
2015-2020 Legal advisor to the Agricultural Institute of the State of Freiburg – Grangeneuve (50%).
2019 Acting Data Protection Officer at ATPRDM (5 months at 50%).
From 2020 to the end of September 2022 Cantonal Data Protection Officer (80%).
As of October 2022 Deputy Federal Data Protection Commissioner.