GDPR

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): What you need to know to stay compliant

GDPR is a regulation that requires businesses to protect the personal data and privacy of EU citizens for transactions that occur within EU member states. And non-compliance could cost companies dearly. Here’s what every company that does business in Europe needs to know about GDPR.

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Larger companies might have thousands of contracts to update. Complicating that challenge is that it needs to be done late in the compliance process. Before you can define responsibilities and responsibilities, you must know exactly what data you have, where and how it is processed, and the data flows. “That’s left a lot of institutions racing toward the deadline trying to complete the technical and operational issues and having to play catch-up on putting the right contract in place to enforce that. A lot of firms have not done any renegotiation of contract terms.”

That begs the question: What happens if the contracts aren’t all in place by the May deadline? Lewis sees several risks to not completing the contracts:

  • Operational: If you haven’t agreed on what your processes will be with a vendor, it’s not clear how you will be operating under GDPR.
  • Vendor management: Under GDPR, you need to know how your vendors operate including their security framework and how they manage data. Without that knowledge, you don’t know the risk they present.
  • Regulatory fines: Lewis notes that the EU is known for its willingness to levy steep fines for regulatory non-compliance. If a breach occurs, not having contracts in place might well work against the company. “Not having a contract is an indication you don’t know what your vendors are doing, and that is a larger management issue about what infrastructure you’re using and how you’re treating the data,” says Lewis. “It gives the regulator an idea of how organized you are and how well you understand your data flows.”

What happens if my company is not in compliance with the GDPR?

The GDPR allows for steep penalties of up to €20 million or 4 percent of global annual turnover, whichever is higher, for non-compliance. According to a report from Ovum, 52 percent of companies believe they will be fined for non-compliance. Management consulting firm Oliver Wyman predicts that the EU could collect as much as $6 billion in fines and penalties in the first year.

If your organization is not in compliance by the May 25 deadline, it will not be alone. Estimates vary, but the consensus is that about half of the U.S. companies that should be compliant will not be on all requirements. According to a survey by Solix Technologies released in December, 22 percent of companies were still unaware that they must comply with GDPR. Thirty-eight percent said that the personal data they process is not protected from misuse and unauthorized access at every stage of its life cycle.

One particularly difficult requirement will be the right to be forgotten, described below. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of the Solix survey respondents say they are unsure if they can purge an individual’s personal information forever by deadline.

That leaves a lot of organizations vulnerable to fines. The big unanswered question is how penalties will be assessed. For example, how will fines differ for a breach that has minimal impact on individuals versus one where their exposed PII results in actual damage? The consensus is that the regulators will quickly act on a few companies found to be not in compliance early on to send a message. Then, organizations can make a better assessment of what to expect in the event of a non-compliance finding.

For now, the ability to show a good-faith effort to comply should protect companies from harsh penalties. In a recent speech, Liz Denham, the UK information commissioner, had this to say to organizations concerned about GDPR fines:

“…I hope by now you know that enforcement is a last resort. I have no intention of changing the ICO’s (Information Commission Office’s) proportionate and pragmatic approach after 25th of May. Hefty fines will be reserved for those organizations that persistently, deliberately or negligently flout the law. Those organizations that self-report, engage with us to resolve issues, and demonstrate an effective accountability arrangement can expect this to be a factor when we consider any regulatory action.”

Which GDPR requirements will affect my company?

The GDPR requirements will force U.S. companies to change the way they process, store, and protect customers’ personal data. For example, companies will be allowed to store and process personal data only when the individual consents and for “no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which the personal data are processed.” Personal data must also be portable from one company to another, and companies must erase personal data upon request.

That last item is also known as the right to be forgotten. There are some exceptions. For example, GDPR does not supersede any legal requirement that an organization maintain certain data. This would include HIPAA health record requirements.

Several requirements will directly affect security teams. One is that companies must be able to provide a “reasonable” level of data protection and privacy to EU citizens. What the GDPR means by “reasonable” is not well defined.

What could be a challenging requirement is that companies must report data breaches to supervisory authorities and individuals affected by a breach within 72 hours of when the breach was detected. Another requirement, performing impact assessments, is intended to help mitigate the risk of breaches by identifying vulnerabilities and how to address them.

For a more complete description of GDPR requirements, see "What are the GDPR requirements?".

What does a successful GDPR project look like?

It’s hard to imagine a company that will be more affected by GDPR than ADP. The company provides cloud-based human capital management (HCM) and business outsourcing services to more than 650,000 companies globally. ADP holds PII for millions of people around the world, and its clients expect the company to be GDPR compliant and to help them do the same. If ADP is found non-compliant with GDPR, it risks not only fines but loss of business from clients expecting ADP to have them covered.

ADP’s global focus and scale in some ways has been an advantage. It already adheres to existing privacy and security regulations, so the leap to GDPR compliance is not as high as it might have been. “We are already familiar with privacy laws in Europe. We are not starting from scratch with GDPR,” says Cecile Georges, chief privacy officer for ADP. “GDPR triggers the need for us to comply not just as a company, but also as a service provider. We help our clients comply with GDPR.”

Despite ADP being better prepared than many other companies, Georges says its GDPR project is large and global. It began about a year ago, but the project builds on earlier work. “We started even before GDPR was discussed,” she says. The company began data flow mapping and privacy assessments on new products several years ago.

Georges sees the early start on data flow mapping as key. “If we had not started the data flow mapping a long time ago, I would be less confident than I am speaking to you now,” she says. “Data flow mapping is required to do inventory of products, and processing PII is a first step to data protection impact assessments that are required. We’ve also implemented privacy by design in our new offers and products.” She adds that ADP supports its “privacy by design” policy with training for its developers.

ADP’s GDPR project pulls in people from many areas of the company, and Georges believes this is necessary for success. “We are involved in the organization, all the operations, and the functional groups. It’s not just a pure privacy or compliance project. It really involves the entire organization and we are coordinating with project managers across the company to make sure we implement the right processes across the organization,” she says.

Mechanisms for securing PII such as encryption are already in place at ADP. “From a security standpoint we came to the conclusion that it’s more about communicating with our clients, making sure they have the right information about what we are doing,” says Georges. “They may have to convey that message to their employees or to their own clients.”

Because ADP is a data processor for other companies, ADP has taken the optional step of defining Binding Corporate Rules around protecting PII. “With the implementation of Binding Corporate Rules as a data processor, we hope that our customers understand that we want to make their lives easier and we commit to protect their personal data in accordance with the standards required in the EU, regardless of where the European data is processed, accessed, or hosted” says Georges.

Georges says she hears from other companies that aren’t yet on track for GDPR compliance. “The clock is starting to tick,” she says. “If a company has not started to look into what they need to do, they first need to understand what it means for them in terms of their business. Understand first to what extent they are affected by the new regulation and then do a gap analysis. That is the starting point of any project to assess what they need to do.

She also encourages companies to take an operational approach. “My recommendation is to have representatives of all the functions in the organization and not consider it a pure privacy or pure legal compliance project,” Georges says. “It would take too much time for operations to understand exactly what they need to do, whereas if you involve them from the beginning they can tell a lawyer or privacy professional, ‘We are already doing this,’ or ‘Technically, we can’t do this, but this is how we can address this requirement.’”

“There are different ways of applying GDPR depending on your business and the tools you have in place. The business people can assess that,” says Georges. “Once they have done the assessment and decided what to do, then they have to document what they are doing.” Georges is referring to the GDPR’s accountability principle, which requires companies to document how they’ve become compliant. “The documentation piece will be key.”

What should my company be doing to prepare for the GDPR?

Set a sense of urgency that comes from top management: Risk management company Marsh stresses the importance of executive leadership in prioritizing cyber preparedness. Compliance with global data hygiene standards is part of that preparedness.

Involve all the stakeholders. IT alone is ill-prepared to meet GDPR requirements. Start a task force that includes marketing, finance, sales, operations—any group within the organization that collects, analyzes, or otherwise makes use of customers’ PII. With representation on a GDPR task force, they can better share information that will be useful to those implementing the technical and procedural changes needed, and they will be better prepared to deal with any impact on their teams.

Conduct a risk assessment: You want to know what data you store and process on EU citizens and understand the risks around it. Remember, the risk assessment must also outline measures taken to mitigate that risk. A key element of this assessment will be to uncover all shadow IT that might be collecting and storing PII. Shadow IT and smaller point solutions represent the greatest risk for non-compliance; ignore them at your own peril.

And there are a lot of them. According to Matt Fisher, IT thought leader and senior vice president at Snow Software, more than 39,000 applications are known to hold personal data. “The iceberg effect poses a serious risk to organizations’ GDPR compliance as many are focused on the 10 percent of applications holding personal data that are visible at the water’s surface,” he says. 

Fisher cites the change in how organizations allocate their IT and technology spend, with business units expected to own about half of it by 2020. “As IT teams lose sight of the applications in use across the organization, they lack overarching visibility into the applications that could threaten GDPR compliance,” he says.

“Getting started [on the risk assessment] is the biggest obstacle,” Fisher says. “As a first course of action, organizations must get a full picture of their entire IT infrastructure and inventory all applications in their estates. This, coupled with specific insight about which applications can process personal data, dramatically minimizes the scope of the project as well as the time spent on it. Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible.”

Hire or appoint a DPO: The GDPR does not say whether the DPO needs to be a discrete position, so presumably a company may name someone who already has a similar role to the position as long as that person can ensure the protection of PII with no conflict of interest. Otherwise, you will need to hire a DPO. Depending on the organization, that DPO might not need to be full-time. In that case, a virtual DPO is an option. GDPR rules allow a DPO to work for multiple organizations, so a virtual DPO would be like a consultant who works as needed.

Create a data protection plan: Most companies already have a plan in place, but they will need to review and update it to ensure that it aligns with GDPR requirements.

Don’t forget about mobile: According to a survey of IT and security executives by Lookout, Inc., 64 percent of employees access customer, partner, and employee PII using mobile devices. That creates a unique set of risks for GDPR non-compliance. For example, 81 percent of the survey respondents said that most employees are approved to install personal apps on the devices used for work purposes, even if it’s their own device. If any of those apps access and store PII, they must do so in a GDPR-compliant manner. That’s tough to control, especially when you factor in all the unauthorized apps employees use.

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