December 19, 2023

Data privacy is a subset of data management that focuses on the handling of personal and sensitive information in accordance with data privacy compliance requirements. It establishes the parameters for access controls to help organizations adhere to rules related to data protection protocols, how consent is requested and granted for data collection, and how data integrity is maintained.

Data privacy has long been a concern, but the urgency around it continues to grow as the volume of digital data produced and collected is being processed and shared at ever-increasing rates. Most individuals agree that data privacy is an issue, but lack the ability to address it directly.

In response to this growing concern, data privacy regulations have proliferated to protect personal data, such as patient health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII), as well as sensitive data, such as financial information and confidential information, from unauthorized access, misuse, and breaches.

Data privacy compliance ensures that information is handled appropriately, from how it is gathered and stored to its access and use.

Data privacy compliance lapses and breaches have legal consequences and can result in investigations and stringent penalties, including heavy fines. The potential penalties are amplified by the number of jurisdictions across the United States and around the world that have passed data privacy legislation and are enforcing the laws rigorously. In addition, in some cases, individuals can pursue civil lawsuits.

While data privacy compliance drives organizations to implement data privacy programs, they do derive value from it, including:

  • Building customer trust and loyalty
  • Gaining a competitive advantage
  • Maintaining and enhancing their reputation
  • Preventing data breaches
  • Streamlining operations

Data privacy compliance challenges

While it is of vital importance and delivers benefits that go far beyond meeting mandatory requirements, data privacy compliance is challenging. Issues that organizations face include:

  • Creating and managing processes and systems to support individuals’ privacy-related requests (e.g., right to be forgotten and right to access records)
  • Extending and enforcing data privacy compliance rules to BYOD (bring your own device) programs and IoT (internet of things) devices
  • Locating personal and sensitive information across multiple applications and databases
  • Protecting the privacy of employee information and data
  • Understanding U.S. and international privacy laws

International data privacy rules and regulations

In addition to the U.S. federal data privacy laws and those adopted by states across the U.S., most other countries have data privacy rules and regulations. Following are several of them.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR is considered the most comprehensive data privacy law in the world. It applies to European Union (E.U.) citizens and any organization that engages with them, including countries not based in the E.U. Since it is outside of the E.U. now, the United Kingdom (U.K.) has its own version of the GDPR, U.K. GDPR.

Personal Information Protection Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

PIPEDA is Canada’s data privacy law. It is closely aligned with the E.U.’s GDPR and the U.K. GDPR. 

Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA)

PDPA is the name of the data privacy laws in Singapore and Malaysia. 

The Privacy Act

The Privacy Act protects Australian citizens’ personal information. 

Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD)

LGPD is Brazil’s general data protection law that includes requirements for data privacy compliance.

Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL)

PIPL is China’s data privacy law that focuses on personal information protection and addresses issues related to personal data leakage.

Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA)

PoPIA, also known as the PoPI Act, is South Africa’s comprehensive data protection legislation.

Best practices for data privacy compliance

Following best practices helps organizations effectively maintain data privacy compliance. Several commonly cited best practices for data privacy compliance are outlined here.

Start with a comprehensive data privacy compliance strategy.
Before starting to plan, organizations should take time to establish objectives and create a comprehensive data privacy compliance strategy. This should be an integrated effort that takes a holistic view of all stakeholders, technology, and processes to ensure the strategy is fully implemented. A data privacy compliance strategy should also define benchmarks and success metrics.

Determine which data privacy compliance requirements apply to the organization.  
Data privacy experts should be employed to identify what data privacy compliance regulations the organization needs to consider. In addition, regulations should be monitored closely on an ongoing basis as requirements change and new ones are released. 

Engage data privacy compliance experts to help with the plan.
Once the strategy has been established, a plan must be developed to achieve the requirements and goals. Data privacy compliance experts should be included in developing the plan. These can be in-house experts, or external resources can be leveraged. Either way, experts are needed to navigate this complex ecosystem and ensure that the plan addresses the requirements.

Implement a system to inventory and tag data.
As data is created or acquired, any sensitive or personal information (e.g., PHI or PII) needs to be tagged and inventoried. This ensures it can be quickly located, tracked, and handled appropriately to meet data privacy compliance requirements. 

Establish policies and procedures to meet data privacy compliance requirements and enforce rules.
Administrative, technical, and security controls and policies must be in place to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data required for data privacy compliance. These controls range from data protection systems and access controls to intrusion detection and prevention systems and monitoring capabilities to identify and stop unauthorized access to information.

In addition, data handling should be covered. Who and what can access data, how, and why data can be used should be clearly defined. Compliance status should be continually monitored to identify and remediate gaps.

Maintain documentation of data privacy compliance measures and activities.
All data privacy compliance plans and processes should be documented for internal use and audits. To respond to auditors’ requests in a timely manner, validation materials (e.g., documents and reports) need to be readily accessible. If there are any compliance gaps, these need to be identified, and a path to compliance outlined.

Leverage proven data privacy compliance frameworks.
Compliance standards and frameworks (e.g., SOC 2, NIST 800-53, and ISO/IEC 27001) provide detailed privacy and security controls for securing data and ensuring that compliance requirements are met.

  • SOC 2, an auditing procedure developed by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), defines criteria for managing customer data according to five principles (i.e., security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy).
  • NIST 800-53 provides security and privacy controls for federal information systems and organizations. Non-governmental organizations often use it to guide data privacy compliance efforts.
  • ISO/IEC 27701 (International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission) provides guidance on what organizations should do to prevent unauthorized access to data. It is widely used to develop plans to meet data privacy requirements for the GDPR and other data privacy regulations.

Conduct internal audits regularly.
An internal audit process is crucial to ensure that data privacy compliance programs continue to meet the changing requirements of regulations. If possible, it is best to have a person assigned to oversee this, tracking progress and reporting on results.

Integrate data privacy compliance at all levels.
The data protection principles that support data privacy compliance should be integrated into every function in an organization. All users should be trained on security processes and protocols.

Develop and test an incident response plan.
Data privacy compliance regulations have strict rules for what must happen in the wake of a cyber attack. An incident response plan should be developed and tested to ensure it can be effectively engaged.

The plan should include details about exactly what needs to be done and who needs to be contacted, with specifications about the order and what needs to be disclosed according to data privacy rules and regulations. In addition, teams need to be trained on their roles in executing the response plan.

Making data privacy compliance a priority

Data privacy is a high priority across the world. Virtually no organization can afford data privacy compliance gaps; the stakes are high from a monetary perspective and from a reputation standpoint. Consumers and organizations are increasingly aware of their rights and expect them to be respected. Fortunately, the enterprise has many tools and services at its disposal to support data privacy compliance.

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