As part of Women’s History Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is celebrating Women in Privacy. To kick off this initiative, VA is highlighting Ms. Stephania Griffin, JD, who is the Director of the Information Access and Privacy Office and Veterans Health Administration Privacy Officer. Read on to learn more about Ms. Griffin and her role as a woman in privacy.
When and why did you begin working in privacy?
I began working in privacy within VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) in November 1999, around the time when the Department of Health and Human Services released the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule. Privacy was in the VHA Office of Information where I worked as a Project Manager. My background is in Health Information Management, which I wasn’t using as much as project management. So, when the Privacy Officer position became available, I applied. I’ve obviously enjoyed privacy because I’ve stayed here since!
What makes you passionate about working in privacy?
I’m still working in privacy after 22 years so it’s clearly important to me. What I’ve always been passionate about is helping Veterans understand and exercise their privacy rights, and helping employees understand their roles and responsibilities under privacy. That’s really what makes me passionate about it, is being able to help Veterans and employees. For example, when a Veteran is finally able to get a piece of his or her medical record changed under privacy amendment provisions, or when a lightbulb goes off for an employee around protecting Veterans’ information and will implement those principles – those are the things that make privacy reporting so important. It’s the personal aspects of privacy that I’m most passionate about.
How do you see privacy trends progressing in the next few years?
That is a tough one. The privacy focus pendulum swings depending on what’s going on in the country, especially around the health care industry. One trend will be decreasing VA’s reliance on Social Security numbers (SSN) to combat identity theft Another is making it easier for Veterans to exercise their privacy rights by being able to submit requests for their records electronically. The pandemic showed us that people can’t always meet face-to-face or get things posted though the mail in a timely manner, so moving to a more electronic environment that allows virtual exercising of privacy rights is a way to move forward. Additionally, accepting digital signatures may be another privacy trend – that’ll be a trend over the next few years for VA and agencies in general.
What tips do you have for other women who want to work in privacy?
The one tip I can give is for women to take the initiative and become as knowledgeable as possible in federal and state laws applicable to their organizations. Look at how you can apply privacy principles to your current environment. Privacy is everyone’s responsibility, so becoming knowledgeable on what’s applicable to you can lead down that path of privacy. There’s not a degree in privacy; however, there are certifications. If privacy is something you’re interested in, then becoming knowledgeable and seeking certification gives you a leg up.
What’s a fun fact about you?
I love to travel – I really love to travel. I’ve visited 46 states including Alaska and Hawaii and two U.S. territories. My final four are: New Mexico, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. As for picking a favorite place I’ve visited, I can’t pick just one. For a city, San Francisco or New Orleans are great. For nature and wildlife, Custer State Park in South Dakota is breath-taking. Finally, just for fun, I recommend Hawaii!
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