Sol Bermann ’99: Changing the World in his Own Way
Sol Bermann ’99 has always had lofty aspirations. In fact, had he been asked what he wanted to do in the future while he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international relations and a master’s degree in foreign affairs, he would have answered that he wanted to “find a fair and just peace in the middle east, and generally save the world.”
The degrees, along with a desire to help others, led him down a career path devoted to public service. Bermann, 42, has spent more than a year as Ohio’s chief privacy officer, a position charged with developing law, policy, and tools to protect the sensitive data and personally identifiable information of Ohio’s citizens. Bermann is the first person ever to hold the position in Ohio, and the first person to hold such a state position in the United States.
“I’m not quite saving the world in the way I imagined, but I absolutely am working for the public good,” he said. “Whether by my work in the classroom or in this current position, I am proud to have found a way to make a difference in people’s lives.”
After earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Sol worked at the University of Virginia for nearly six years before he decided to attend law school. Moritz was a good choice as Sol, a Michigan native, wanted to return to the Midwest.
Upon arriving at law school, Sol continued his quest to engage in public service. He was a part of the Justice for Children Practicum, executive director of the Pro Bono Research Group, and president of the Public Interest Law Foundation. He sharpened his IT skills by helping to create Moritz’s first web site.
Following graduation, Sol chose a job with a nonprofit start-up called the Technology Policy Group in Columbus. The organization was created to address the challenges that the greater use of technology would have on citizens, government, and business. His focus was on privacy and security, and he organized and ran a nationally recognized conference on the topic for five consecutive years. The 2001 conference followed just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Sol said it was probably the most engaging of the five years.
“The Patriot Act was being written as the conference was going on,” he said. “It was clear that there was a shift in thinking about what privacy and security meant, and there were people with very impassioned views on both sides of the matter.”
His role with Technology Policy Group deepened his passion for, and knowledge of, privacy and security issues. These carried with him when he returned to Moritz to work as an associate director at the Center for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies. Sol taught, worked with students, and, along with Moritz Professor Peter Swire, co-authored the official reference text for the Certified Information Privacy Professional. Sol was also instrumental in advancing a new Moritz journal: I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society.
In 2007, after Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland took office, Sol was asked to take on the new role of Ohio’s chief privacy officer.
“I was the first specifically appointed chief privacy officer for any state,” he said. Other states – like Colorado and Arizona – have since followed suit.”
Sol said that he looked to Professor Swire, his teacher, colleague, and mentor, for guidance and modeled much of what he planned to do on the initiatives of Professor Swire when he was in a somewhat similar, albeit national, position in President Clinton’s administration.
Professor Swire observes: “Sol is building on his legal, technical, and privacy expertise to make Ohio a model for the nation.”
Sol said that he originally planned to use the position to advise, educate, and evangelize. But, in addition to pursuing the three initiatives, circumstances have forced him to take a more active technical role in the state’s information security environment. Most organizations have a chief information security officer position that is designed to focus on the technical matters, but Ohio does not. Thanks to a law that Sol helped write that has changed, and the state of Ohio will soon have such a position.
“The legislation that was passed codifies that Ohio will have a chief privacy officer and a chief information security officer,” he said.
Sol said that the new position should free more of his time to further advance privacy to the forefront of conversations at the state level. His expertise is also tapped in such divergent areas as the state of Ohio consolidating its e-mail systems, and the creation of a statewide electronic health record information exchange.
Despite often performing double-duty, Sol said that it has been exciting creating the parameters of the position and being on the front lines of privacy issues. “When I was in law school, I never would have guessed that I would know the lead privacy officers of organizations like Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, IBM, etc.”
And, Sol said, despite not practicing law, he uses what he learned in law school every single day.
“Law school is not about memorization,” he said. “It is a way of thinking, writing, analyzing, working collaboratively, learning, listening, and leading. It’s all those things that make you the better lawyer – the better leader – that people want.”