4 min read

Writen by Zlatko Delev

Posted on: June 3, 2021

What is a DPIA(Data Protection Impact Assesment) and why are DPIA’s important?

What is a DPIA?

A DPIA is a process designed to help you systematically analyse, identify and minimise the data protection risks of a project or plan. It is a key part of your accountability obligations under the GDPR, and when done properly helps you assess and demonstrate how you comply with all of your data protection obligations.

It does not have to eradicate all risk, but should help you minimise and determine whether or not the level of risk is acceptable in the circumstances, taking into account the benefits of what you want to achieve.

DPIAs are designed to be a flexible and scalable tool that you can apply to a wide range of sectors and projects. Conducting a DPIA does not have to be complex or time-consuming in every case, but there must be a level of rigour in proportion to the privacy risks arising.

Why are DPIAs important?

DPIAs are an essential part of your accountability obligations. Conducting a DPIA is a legal requirement for any type of processing, including certain specified types of processing that are likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals. Under  GDPR, failure to carry out a DPIA when required may leave you open to enforcement action, including a fine of up to £8.7 million, or 2% global annual turnover if higher.

By considering the risks related to your intended processing before you begin, you also support compliance with another general obligation under GDPR: data protection by design and default.

In general, consistent use of DPIAs increases the awareness of privacy and data protection issues within your organisation. It also ensures that all relevant staff involved in designing projects think about privacy at the early stages and adopt a ‘data protection by design’ approach.

A DPIA also brings broader compliance benefits, as it can be an effective way to assess and demonstrate your compliance with all data protection principles and obligations.

However, DPIAs are not just a compliance exercise. An effective DPIA allows you to identify and fix problems at an early stage, bringing broader benefits for both individuals and your organisation.

It can reassure individuals that you are protecting their interests and have reduced any negative impact on them as much as you can. In some cases the consultation process for a DPIA gives them a chance to have some say in the way their information is used. Conducting and publishing a DPIA can also improve transparency and make it easier for individuals to understand how and why you are using their information

In turn, this can create potential benefits for your reputation and relationships with individuals. Conducting a DPIA can help you to build trust and engagement with the people using your services, and improve your understanding of their needs, concerns and expectations.

There can also be financial benefits. Identifying a problem early on generally means a simpler and less costly solution, as well as avoiding potential reputational damage later on. A DPIA can also reduce the ongoing costs of a project by minimising the amount of information you collect where possible, and devising more straightforward processes for staff.

In other words, a DPIA is not simply a rubber stamp or a technicality as part of a sign-off process. It’s vital to integrate the outcomes of your DPIA back into your project plan.

You should not view a DPIA as a one-off exercise to file away. A DPIA is a ‘living’ process to help you manage and review the risks of the processing and the measures you’ve put in place on an ongoing basis. You need to keep it under review and reassess if anything changes.

In particular, if you make any significant changes to how or why you process personal data, or to the amount of data you collect, you need to show that your DPIA assesses any new risks. An external change to the wider context of the processing should also prompt you to review your DPIA. For example, if a new security flaw is identified, new technology is made available, or a new public concern is raised over the type of processing you do or the vulnerability of a particular group of data subjects.

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