As organizations become more dependent upon consumer information to inform their key business decisions, they have been forced to confront the complicated issues related to data privacy. Not only are consumers asking tough questions about how their data is being stored and processed, but government regulators are beginning to take a closer look at what rights citizens should be entitled to when it comes to their data. With these pressures building, many companies have focused on creating a clear data protection policy to serve as a guiding document for their data operations.
What is a Data Protection Policy?
The primary goal of a data protection policy is to maintain the security and integrity of all data managed within an organization, whether it’s at rest or in motion regardless of where it’s located at any one time. A good policy will lay out the scope of data protection, specify the protection methods and policies at every level of the organization, identify the company’s legal obligations as they pertain to data, and describe the roles and responsibilities of people within the organization who will be entrusted with maintaining data security.
Most US-based businesses are familiar with privacy policies but may have less experience with data protection policies. The former are public-facing documents that explain to customers how their data is collected, managed, and processed. A data protection policy, however, is an internal document that is much closer to an information security policy. It is made available to all employees to make them aware of their obligations regarding the handling and processing of customer data. Many organizations choose to make their data protection policy public as a gesture of transparency.
Why is Having a Data Protection Policy Essential?
While data protection policies have been around in various forms over the years, they gained significantly higher prominence after the passage and implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect in 2018. This sweeping data privacy act placed strict guidelines on organizations that collect and handle the personal information of EU citizens. The focus on individuals meant that the GDPR law impacted more than just companies based in Europe, as many organizations learned the hard way throughout 2019.
Taking into account the nature, scope, context, and purposes of processing as well as the risks of varying likelihood and severity for the rights and freedoms of natural persons, the controller shall implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure and to be able to demonstrate that processing is performed in accordance with this Regulation. Those measures shall be reviewed and updated where necessary.
Data Protection Policy Template
When creating a data protection policy, there are a few key areas that organizations need to keep in mind if they want to demonstrate compliance with GDPR guidelines.
Step 1: Define the Scope
The first section of a data protection policy should both lay out why it exists in the first place and cover what types of data the organization gathers and processes. In addition to discussing data usage, the scope should also identify who the policy applies to within the organization.
Step 2: Provide Definitions
Data protection terminology can be confusing, especially when some terms are used interchangeably or within very different contexts. By providing specific definitions for the terms used throughout the policy (such as “personal data” or “processing”), organizations can avoid any ambiguity.
Step 3: Cite GDPR Guidelines
Not everyone who reads a data protection policy will be familiar with the specific requirements laid out by the GDPR law. Restating those expectations in the policy itself will help to make it clear why the document is necessary and how it meets those expectations.
Step 4: Discuss the Legality of Data Processing
The GDPR identifies six forms of lawful data processing. A good data protection policy should explain how these different approaches interact, how they relate to business operations, and how employees can help ensure that all data is handled properly.
Step 5: Define Roles and Responsibilities
This section should identify specific roles within the organization and explain what their obligations are under the policy. Some examples of distinct roles might include a compliance manager or members of an IT operations team. Some responsibilities will also fall upon all members of the organization, especially where more general security measures (like reporting suspected breaches or staying up to date on changes in security documentation).
Step 6: Establish Breach Notification Procedures
When a data breach occurs, it’s critically important that everyone in the organization knows what steps need to be taken and in what order. In the aftermath of a data breach, compliance investigators will examine the organization’s response and determine whether or not proper procedures were followed. If they conclude that errors were made, those mistakes could result in significant regulatory fines.
Step 7: List the Data Rights of Subjects
The GDPR guidelines identify a number of data rights that all EU citizens possess, such as the right to access their data and object to its processing. While these rights may not be strictly defined under the law for citizens of other countries, listing the GDPR data rights in a data protection policy makes it clear that an organization is applying the highest possible standards for data privacy
Step 8: Describe Security and Records Processes
Every organization that handles customer data should have an information security policy that establishes the security policies and controls used to mitigate risk. They should also have rules in place for documenting policy changes and auditing reports. A data protection policy should provide an overview of both and explain where to access these more detailed documents if someone wants more specific information.
Step 9: Provide Contact Information
The policy should include all relevant contact information for the people responsible for implementing data security policies. This allows readers to follow up with any questions they may have after looking over the rest of the policy.
Step 10: Include Additional, Industry-Specific Clauses
Some industries may have unique security needs or handle data in ways that aren't covered under the specific guidelines of the GDPR law. These special-case details should be included at the conclusion of the policy so they can be easily referenced.
With a comprehensive data protection policy template to follow, organizations should be able to draft an effective policy quickly and easily. Far from a regulatory hurdle to jump, a data protection policy is tremendously beneficial for stakeholders within the company and customers who want to know how their data is being kept secure. The policy clearly lays out everyone’s obligations and explains why specific data protection measures have been put in place. Having this knowledge readily available throughout the organization greatly reduces the risk of oversights that may result in a costly and disruptive data breach.
About Alan Seal
Alan Seal is the VP of Engineering at vXchnge. Alan is responsible for managing teams in IT support and infrastructure, app development, QA, and ERP business systems.