What Is A Data Privacy Impact Assessment (DPIA)?

DPIA featured

New data security regulations include, or foreground, the role of data privacy in compliance. Many of these, like GDPR and CCPA, make data privacy a primary concern and expect businesses to meet stringent requirements about protecting the integrity of consumers’ Personally Identifiable Data (PII). One practice stemming from GDPR requirements is the Data Privacy Impact Assessment  (DPIA).

In this article, we’ll discuss DPIAs and some challenges organizations might face in preparing for them.


Understanding Data Privacy Impact Assessments

Data Privacy Impact Assessments are essential in data-driven businesses, especially with the onset of GDPR and other privacy-centric regulations. A DPIA analyzes an organization’s processing activities, systematically identifying and evaluating the privacy risks with those activities, particularly those entailing high risk for individuals’ privacy rights and freedoms. 

The legal requirement for DPIAs under GDPR and other equivalent regulations globally lays forward the change to a more proactive and preventive means of privacy in data processing activities.

In essence, DPIA identifies and then mitigates data privacy risks through a few basic tenets:

  • Systematically examining the processing operations and the categories of data to be processed.
  • Assessing and identifying the risks through which the rights and freedoms regarding the privacy of the data subjects may be breached.
  • Determining the risk mitigation measures.
  • Documenting how the process shall demonstrate compliance with the relevant data privacy laws.
  • Making it transparent to the data subject, including what measures have been taken to protect that information.


What is the DPIA Process?

Like any other assessment, a DPIA goes through several steps to provide a complete view of an organization’s exposure to potential privacy breaches. In contrast to the security assessment, problems that DPIA might cover will primarily include those caused by unauthorized access to data for any reason, not simply through a malicious hack.

Some common steps of this assessment include:

  • Identify the Need for a DPIA: The process is initiated when organizations identify the need for a DPIA. The decision on whether to go for the DPIA must be taken based on criteria relating to data processing activities, including scope and nature, together with the context and potential impact concerning individuals’ privacy and their regulatory needs.
  • Description of Processing Operations: The descriptions of processing operations conducted by an organization must be rather detailed. This involves the types of data collected and their collection methods, what they intend to do with them, and who the stakeholders are. It is critical to isolate possible privacy risks in this step.
  • Necessity of Data Use: Testing and assessment must determine whether the processing of personal data is necessary for stated business purposes and whether it is carried out in a manner that doesn’t expand into additional processes or workflows.
  • Identification of Risk: This stage is about identifying any potential risk to the data subject stemming from data processing activities that may lead to data breach or unauthorized access or misuse.
  • Risk Assessment: After identifying the risk, its severity and possible occurrence are evaluated. The possible severity of the privacy impact should be understood, as well as the mitigation strategies that should be prioritized.
  • Risk Mitigation Measures: Following risk assessment, organizations must develop and implement strategies to reduce, eliminate, or control identified risks. Such measures may take the form of technical solutions like encryption or policy changes or can be reconfiguration of some processing activities.

Conducting a DPIA can become such a chore that any organization must negotiate the ins and outs, especially when involved in heavy or complicated data processing activities.


What Are the Challenges of Preparing for or Undergoing a DPIA


Preparing for a DPIA, especially if you don’t prioritize data privacy for your organization, can prove a challenge. Here’s a rundown of common challenges and considerations:

  • Determining the Necessity for a DPIA: Identifying whether a particular operation mandates a DPIA can be confusing, given the broad and sometimes vague criteria set forth by GDPR and other regulations. This calls for security experts who know the law and the assessment process.
  • Complexity and Scope of Processing: For organizations of considerable size or complexity, fully comprehending and documenting all processing activities can seem impossible. Solutions include mapping out data flows, understanding the purposes behind processing, and the technologies employed at each data flow step.
  • Risk Assessment: Evaluating the potential risks to individuals’ rights and freedoms (a crucial part of understanding the application of law and penalties) is a nuanced process. It requires a deep understanding of possible harms and their likelihood, which can be particularly challenging when dealing with new technologies or large-scale operations.
  • Expertise Shortage: Executing a DPIA demands a robust understanding of data privacy regulations, risk assessment methods, and specific mitigation strategies. Many organizations don’t have this expertise on hand and must look to a partner or provider for support.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: A DPIA involves collaboration among various stakeholders, including data protection officers, IT personnel, legal advisors, and possibly the data subjects. Ensuring effective participation from all relevant parties can be a logistical challenge.
  • Integration into Project Lifecycles: Incorporating DPIAs into the existing project management frameworks is often not straightforward. DPIAs must be conducted early enough to influence project design while remaining flexible to project evolutions.
  • Maintaining DPIA Relevance: As data processing activities and associated risks evolve, keeping DPIAs current becomes a challenge. Organizations must determine the appropriate time for updating their assessments to reflect technological and legal changes.
  • Documentation and Record-Keeping: Keeping detailed records of DPIAs, including decisions made and measures implemented for risk mitigation, is essential but can be labor-intensive. Such documentation is crucial for demonstrating regulatory compliance.
  • International Data Transfers: For global organizations, aligning international data transfers with DPIA requirements and broader data protection laws introduces additional complexity.
  • Balancing Innovation with Privacy: Organizations, particularly those working with emerging technologies, may struggle to innovate while fully addressing privacy risks and adhering to DPIA requirements.

Overcoming these challenges typically involves thorough planning, active stakeholder engagement, and continuous monitoring of data processing in line with assessments and changing laws. 


Manage Data Privacy and DPIA Preparation with Continuum GRC

Continuum GRC is a cloud platform that can take something as routine and necessary as regular vulnerability scanning and reporting under FedRAMP and make it an easy and timely part of business in the public sector. We provide risk management and compliance support for every major regulation and compliance framework on the market, including:

  • FedRAMP
  • StateRAMP
  • NIST 800-53
  • FARS NIST 800-171
  • CMMC
  • SOC 1, SOC 2
  • PCI DSS 4.0
  • IRS 1075
  • ISO 27000 Series
  • ISO 9000 Series
  • And more.

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

Continuum GRC is a proactive cyber security® and the only FedRAMP and StateRAMP-authorized cybersecurity audit platform worldwide. Call 1-888-896-6207 to discuss your organization’s cybersecurity needs and find out how we can help your organization protect its systems and ensure compliance.

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