One Year to GDPR Compliance Deadline: Time to Panic Yet?

european unionEurope’s new data protection laws might have been over a decade in the making but it would take about as long again to read every piece of advice that’s since been produced on how to comply. In search of some simple answers to a typically complex piece of European legislation, I asked a few legal experts on their thoughts.

With 13 months to go before the compliance deadline, organisations across the country will be scrabbling to ensure they’re not one of the unlucky ones caught out in the months following 25 May.

Start with the Data

Most experts I spoke to were in agreement that firms need to start by mapping their data – after all, you’ve got to know where it is and what you do with it first before working out how to keep it safe.

“For those that are compliant with existing laws, GDPR is going to be an evolution. For the others, it’s going to be a deep, radical change. In general, I think that every organisation should be working on assessing their current practices in light of GDPR,” Forrester analyst Enza Iannopollo told me.

“My advice is, regardless of the kind of support an organisation chooses, it must put together a team of internal people – hopefully the privacy team – and make sure that that team leads the work. Compliance with GDPR is not a one-off effort, but an ongoing process that has to be ingrained in firms’ business model,” she said.

Change the culture

That cultural change might be the hardest thing for organisations to achieve, although a good start is hiring a Data Protection Officer (DPO) – one of the key requirements of the GDPR. Another is the privacy impact assessment, which PwC’s US privacy lead, Jay Cline, recommends as a key stage once you’ve completed a data inventory.

“Data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) are the eyes and ears of the privacy office throughout the company,” he told me by email. “DPIAs are how chief privacy officers enlist the help of the whole company to keep their privacy controls current with all the change going on in the company.”

For Alexandra Leonidou, Senior Associate at Foot Anstey, there’ll be a key role for non-IT functions inside the organisation.

“Who needs to know about the GDPR? Who are the key stakeholders?  This isn’t just something for IT, information security teams or data officers. Boards should be aware of the risks, and HR teams need to think about employee data. Getting GDPR compliance right will be critical for marketing and communications teams’ activity,” she told me.

“You will need to engage key stakeholders and implement measures that leave you with an acceptable level of commercial risk.”

Leonidou was also keen to stress the need for independence in the DPO role.

“Guidance from Europe suggests that this role is likely to be incompatible with certain existing C-suite executives,” she explained. “The awareness-raising that follows on from the allocation of accountability will be an ongoing process.”

For those still in the dark, some useful free resources include the Article 29 Working Party and our very own Information Commissioner’s Office. It’s also expected that even post-May 25, the regulators will give firms a little bedding in time before they start going after some high profile offenders.

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