Whether you are ready or not, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes live on May 25, 2018. It will impact companies doing business in London as much as any other EU legislation. To help US companies prepare, Jonathan Armstrong and myself have started a countdown to GDPR podcast. In this premier episode we discuss what is GDPR and why it is so important that you begin preparing now.

It is quite a wide piece of legislation and covers all personal data. Armstrong noted it is incumbent to remember that the definition of personal information is much wider than the US definition as it includes information such as geographical locations. GDPR applies to anyone doing business in the EU. It could be as simple as having a website which is accessible to people in the EU. GDPR has heightened obligations on data security; in most cases your organization will be required to report data breaches to a UK data regulator within 72 hours of the awareness of the breach. Another distinction is the right for an individual to ask companies what information it may hold on them and to exercise the right to be forgotten. All of these requirements present special challenges for US companies. Finally, one area that has received quite a bit of attention is the fine range. Armstrong noted, “if you’re a small business then you’re subject to a fine of 20 million euros. And if you’re a larger business that fine can be 4% of your global annual general revenue.” Lastly, to top it all off, there is a private right cause of action under GDPR.

Even at this late date, there are steps you can take to begin to get ready. Armstrong laid out three steps a company can take now. First, through a proper plan which is achievable, and concentrates on the main issues, Armstrong believes “that are less likely to get you into trouble with the regulator or expose you to private rights of action.”

Second, Armstrong said you should look at how you relate to individuals, whether they are consumers or employees, you are going to have to be much clearer with them about how you are using data around them. To do so, you will need to engage with marketing and sales teams to provide them with some awareness as to the changes that GDPR is going to make to what they do with individuals and the transparency obligations.

Third is to have a real focus on data security. You will need to make sure that you secure everything that you can, including both soft and hard copies of data. In conjunction with this final point, you must plan for and rehearse data breach responses, because under GDPR you have, in most cases, just 72 hours to respond to a data breach so you need to practice the scenario to be able to do that efficiently.

Near and dear to the compliance professionals heart, Armstrong said it all begins with a risk assessment. This means your corporate compliance function may well play a very large role in your GDPR compliance. From there manage the risks that you see in your data protection and management program. In the Cordery FAQs (FAQs) regarding GDPR it states, “Privacy by design and/or default will not be an add-on, but, instead, will become the norm as businesses will have to incorporate data protection safeguards into their products and services from the beginning.”

You should anticipate the need to appointment a Data Protection Officer (DPO) in your company. The FAQs state:

A DPO will have to be appointed to deal with data protection compliance where:

  • The core activities of the data controller or the processor consist of processing operations which, by virtue of their nature, scope and/or purposes, require regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale; or,
  • The core activities of the data controller or the processor consist of processing on a large scale of special categories of personal data, namely those revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, and, the processing of genetic and biometric data in order to uniquely identify a person, or data concerning health or sex life and sexual orientation (which can only be processed under certain strict conditions such as where consent has been given), or, data relating to criminal convictions and offences.

“The DPO must be suitably qualified and is mandated with a number of tasks, including advising on data-processing, and, must be independent in the performance of their tasks – they will report directly to the highest level of management.”

In addition to the basic risk assessment, Cordery advises, companies should undertake ““Data Protection Impact Assessments” (DPIAs). Where processing operations, in particular those using new technologies, “are likely to result in a high risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals,” an impact assessment of the envisaged processing operations on the protection of personal data must be carried out, prior to the processing, “taking into account the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing.” The new rules also set out other additional criteria that will necessitate an impact assessment. A data protection regulator must also be consulted prior to the processing of personal data where an assessment “indicates that the processing would result in a high risk in the absence of measures taken by a data controller to mitigate the risk”.

DPIAs are likely to become common and should prove to be a very useful tool for businesses in addressing privacy risks.”

For more information, visit the Cordery GDPR Navigator, which provides a wealth of information to utilize in your data privacy compliance program. Finally, Jonathan Armstrong will be in Houston on April 10, 2018 to put on a 3-hour workshop on GDPR. The event will be held at the South Texas College of Law, from 9-12 AM. You can find out more information on the event and register by going to the GHBER.org site.