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GDPR: What should I be doing?

Chris Cook, Julie Gingell & Emma Gross share how you can start preparing for the GDPR.

Confused about the impacts of the new General Data Protection Regulation? Worried about meeting the May 2018 deadline? SA Law has been helping clients and contacts to understand the new era of data protection, and guiding them towards an effective compliance roadmap.

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation is new European legislation that harmonises the way organisations handle the personal data of EU nationals. Even with Brexit, GDPR will be incorporated on 25 May 2018, and will cause the biggest shake-up of data protection law for 20 years. It introduces new obligations for organisations, more accountability and a greatly increased fine for non-compliance.

Why is this happening?

The modern information era has turned personal data into a valuable commodity. Unfortunately, the laws that protect personal data were written before Facebook and Twitter existed, and when Google was just a relatively small start-up. As a result, the rapid expansion of online services over the last ten years has caused a great deal of confusion over how organisations should protect people’s identities, particularly in the face of escalating online crimes such as identity theft. GDPR serves to reduce this confusion by bringing the law up to date with the modern era.

Are the changes significant?

While many of the core obligations remain the same, there are some key changes that will fundamentally affect the way your organisation handles personal data, from the way you talk to customers, to the way you recruit employees.

The most visible change is the new fine, which rises from £500,000 to around £18 million or 4% of your worldwide annual turnover, whichever is greater. If you suffer a data breach, you may also need to pay compensation to individuals who have been affected. At first, the media painted a picture of apocalyptic ruin for any organisation that failed to comply with the new law by 25 May 2018. In reality, we can expect a grace period in which any failings will be assessed against how much work the organisation has done to meet its new obligations.

Perhaps the most significant change is the need to obtain free and unambiguous consent to hold a person’s data. Implied consent will no longer apply, so pre-ticked opt-in boxes don’t count. This means that most organisations will need to reconfirm consent to some degree with customers, marketing lists and employees. For anyone under the age of 13, consent must be obtained from their parents.

The new law also gives people the ‘right to be forgotten’, which means they can ask you to erase all data you hold about them. From May 2018, you also have less time in which to fulfil Subject Access Requests, so if someone asks to see a copy of all information you hold about them, you only have one month to comply under normal circumstances.

There are other changes that you will need to assess the impacts of, including new categories of personal data, and the requirement to report data breaches within 72 hours. For a full list, check out our 12-point outline of the key changes.

What should I be doing?

Meeting the new GDPR obligations can be boiled down to three compliance objectives. You must ensure that: 

  • All personal data you hold has been gathered compliantly
  • Your systems and processes store, use and dispose of personal data compliantly
  • Your employees are trained in their compliance responsibilities. 

Our recommended roadmap to achieving this covers four logical stages:

1. Plan and audit

As always, change programmes such as these work best when they are organisation-wide in scope, and driven from the top. Begin by assembling an appropriate compliance team, with a senior leader as spokesperson and chair. Next, assign a budget. Although GDPR activities may not require extensive investment, some budget for awareness is likely to be needed

2. Prepare

To identify the actions you need to take, you must first understand what the organisation is doing at the moment. Initiate a comprehensive fact-finding exercise to determine the full nature of the personal data you hold and how you process it. Ask key questions such as: 

  • How did you gather the data?
  • How long have you held it for?
  • Did every individual give their consent? 

At the same time, understand how information flows around the organisation, and how employees actually handle it. All of this information helps to determine: 

  • The gap between your current systems and processes, and your GDPR compliance requirements
  • The gap between how employees currently handle information, and the way they should be handling it
  • How compliant your data is. For example, who do you need to obtain consent from? 

With the gaps identified, you can plan your strategy for closing them. SA Law’s Data Risk Register can help you analyse where your risk exposure is greatest.

3. Implement

Start with systems and processes, and any policies that you use to govern them. These may need to be redrafted to reflect the new changes. The aim is to create a flexible Information Governance Framework (IGF) that meets compliance, yet enables you to deliver on short and long-term business objectives.

You can also begin to deliver awareness and education activities that prepare employees for the new law. Larger organisations will likely need a more formal change programme, while smaller ventures may only require a few informal training sessions.

Finally, begin the process of reconfirming consent with customers, employees and anyone else whose data you hold. 

4. Deploy

Ideally, try to deploy your new information regime ahead of the May deadline, which gives you time to iron out the bugs. During that time, it can help to run a few breach scenarios to make sure everything operates smoothly, from employees notifying you promptly, to your marketing function preparing customer awareness communications, to your PR team making preparations for damage control.

Think positively

One final thing to bear in mind is your attitude towards GDPR. It’s easy to see it as a large stick with potentially devastating impacts when something goes wrong, but this won’t help rally employees to the cause. Therefore, we recommend a more positive perspective. In an age where high profile data breaches and poor handling of the aftermath has weakened our confidence in many brands, GDPR represents an opportunity to ‘re-inspire’ customer trust. In effect, it presents an opportunity for competitive differentiation that could help you stand apart from the crowd.

Want to know more?

Click here to view SA Law's dedicated GDPR hub page for more practical information, views and insight from our expert teams. 

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Download SA Law's Helpful Guide to GDPR

Click here to download SA Law's guide to the General Data Protection Regulation and find out how we can help you understand the new era of data protection.

© SA LAW 2017

Every care is taken in the preparation of our articles. However, no responsibility can be accepted to any person who acts on the basis of information contained in them alone. You are recommended to obtain specific advice in respect of individual cases.