Risk Assessment Requirements for GDPR Compliance

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Cybersecurity trends are moving from checklist compliance to comprehensive, risk-driven security. This is just as true in the European Union, where data subject privacy and security requirements are strict. 

Fortunately, GDPR provides significant guidance on general risk management and specific risk assessment requirements. We’ll cover those requirements here. 


General Risk Assessment Expectations under GDPR

GDPR requires organizations that handle the personal data of EU citizens to perform risk assessments as part of their compliance efforts. Risk assessments are crucial to identifying, evaluating, and managing the risks associated with personal data processing activities and informing the processes and procedures an organization must have in place.

Here are the critical steps involved in conducting a GDPR risk assessment:

  • Data Mapping and Identification: Per Article 24, before assessing the risks, you need to know what personal data you collect, where it comes from, how it is processed, and where it is stored. This step involves creating a detailed inventory of data flows within your organization.
  • Risk Analysis: Analyze the risks associated with each type of data processing activity. This includes considering the potential impact on data subjects if their data is compromised and the likelihood of such events. Risks can be associated with unauthorized access, data loss, data corruption, and the lack of data integrity and confidentiality.
  • Evaluate GDPR Principles: Assess how well your data processing activities align with GDPR principles, such as data minimization, limitation of purpose, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity, confidentiality, and accountability. This evaluation helps pinpoint areas where compliance may be lacking.
  • Mitigation Measures: Based on the risks identified, develop and implement measures to mitigate those risks to meet the requirements of Article 25. These could include technical measures such as encryption and ensuring data anonymization and organizational measures like staff training on data protection.
  • Documentation and Monitoring: Keep detailed records of all the steps taken during the risk assessment. Regularly review and update the risk assessment to reflect new or changed processing activities and to ensure ongoing compliance with GDPR.
  • Consultation and Review: In high-risk situations, consult with the relevant data protection authority to review the processing strategy and mitigation measures before processing the data.


What’s Unique for Risk Management Under GDPR?

Risk management under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has several unique aspects that distinguish it from other privacy and data protection frameworks. These aspects include:

  • Focus on Data Subject Rights: GDPR risk management focuses on protecting data subject rights. These include the right to privacy and specific rights such as access to data, data correction, deletion, and the right to object to data processing. Risk assessments must, therefore, consider the impact of data processing activities on these rights, not just the security or confidentiality of the data itself.
  • Mandatory Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs): GDPR requires organizations to conduct DPIAs for certain types of data processing activities likely to result in a high risk to individual’s rights and freedoms (such as large-scale surveillance or processing of sensitive personal data). 
  • Accountability Principle: GDPR introduces an accountability principle requiring organizations to demonstrate active compliance. This includes keeping detailed records of data processing activities, implementing privacy-by-design principles, and regularly reviewing risk management and mitigation strategies.
  • Risk-Based Approach: GDPR mandates a risk-based approach to data protection, requiring organizations to assess the risk associated with data processing activities and then implement measures proportionate to those risks. This means that more significant or likely risks require more robust safeguards.
  • Cross-Border Considerations: GDPR risk management must also consider data transfer implications across borders, especially outside the EU. Organizations must ensure that international transfers comply with GDPR standards concerning the adequacy of protection in other jurisdictions.
  • Engagement with Authorities: In cases where high risks are identified and cannot be mitigated sufficiently, organizations must consult with supervisory authorities (Data Protection Authorities) before processing. This level of regulatory engagement is more prescriptive and structured under GDPR compared to other frameworks.

What Is a Data Protection Impact Assessment?

A DPIA is a process designed to help organizations systematically analyze, identify, and minimize the data protection risks of a project or plan involving the processing of personal data. 

These reports are core to any risk assessment under these guidelines because they cover several steps your organization would take to conduct risk evaluations. 

The components of a DPIA include:

  • Purpose and Necessity: The DPIA begins with a clear description of the data processing operations, their purposes, and how necessary each operation is with the purposes.
  • Risk Assessment: This involves evaluating the potential impact of the proposed data processing activities on individuals’ privacy, including the likelihood and severity of these impacts.
  • Mitigation Measures: The DPIA should identify ways to mitigate or reduce any risks identified to an acceptable level. This includes technical and organizational measures like data minimization, ensuring data accuracy, and implementing secure data storage and transfer mechanisms.
  • Consultation: If the DPIA identifies a high risk that cannot be mitigated, GDPR requires that the organization consult with the relevant data protection authority (DPA) before processing the data.
  • Compliance Check: The DPIA should also assess whether the processing complies with applicable legal requirements, including GDPR.
  • Documentation and Review: The process and its findings must be documented thoroughly. This documentation not only helps demonstrate compliance if required by regulators but also serves as a reference for reviewing and updating the DPIA as necessary, mainly when changes occur in the processing activities or as part of regular updates.

Article 35 of GDPR mandates DPIAs for processing likely to result in high risks to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, especially when using new technologies and particularly for processing that involves systematic monitoring of a publicly accessible area on a large scale, use of sensitive personal data, or profiling individuals. DPIAs are crucial for proactive privacy management and compliance assurance within an organization.


Manage GDPR Compliance and Risk with Continuum GRC

Continuum GRC is a cloud platform that stays ahead of the curve, including support for all certifications (along with our sister company and assessors, Lazarus Alliance). We provide risk management and compliance support for every major regulation and compliance framework on the market, including:

We are the only FedRAMP and StateRAMP-authorized compliance and risk management solution worldwide.

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