when to carry out a DPIA

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What is a DPIA?

A Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) is a key element of your GDPR compliance toolkit, and in my opinion, is probably one of the most overlooked elements of GDPR compliance.

A DPIA is essentially a risk assessment, a look at data protection risks and how to mitigate them (and if you can’t mitigate them you have to ask the ICO to confirm it’s still OK to process the data before you do so). Failure to comply could lead to a fine up to €10m or 2% of global turnover.

In the UK impact assessments aren’t new – they’ve been best practice according to the ICO for some time now, but the GDPR has brought them into being a legal requirement in some circumstances and they’re a key part of the principle of data protection by design and by default – the concept that data protection should be “baked into” any processing activity by default.

There are two ways to look at the DPIA requirement:

  1. The GDPR requires a DPIA when the processing is “likely to result in a high risk”
  2. Best practice

High risk processing

Where processing is consider to be “high risk” the GDPR mandates you to carry out a DPIA. Whilst the GDPR doesn’t define what it means by “high risk” processing it does set out three types of processing that always require a DPIA:

  • Systematic and extensive profiling with significant effects
  • Large scale use of sensitive data (i.e. processing large amounts of special category data)
  • Public monitoring

The ICO also has its own list of what processing activity it requires a DPIA to be carried out.

DPIAs as best practice

If your processing activity doesn’t meet the GDPR criteria for carrying out a DPIA, you should carry one out anyway. As already mentioned the ICO have considered privacy impact assessments, best practice for some time, in fact in its DPIA guidance the ICO says “Even if there is no specific indication of likely high risk, it is good practice to do a DPIA for any major new project involving the use of personal data“.

So, whilst your processing might be “high risk”, although you kind of need to carry out a DPIA to determine that, you should carry one out anyway, whenever you decide to process data differently, using new technology or processing means, etc., so even when moving from one customer database system to another, you should consider carrying out a DPIA.

What are you looking for, from a DPIA?

The key element of a DPIA is to consider the project and work out what data protection risks there are and how to mitigate them. You should be identifying general compliance risks and risks to the rights of data subjects, identifying the likelihood of the risk, the impact on data subjects and how to mitigate those risks.

How you carry them out is up to you, but the ICO does provide a template you can use and ideally you want someone who understands data protection as well as the processing activity to assist you to make sure you’ve considered all potential risks and that the solutions are appropriate.

If in doubt carry out a DPIA would be my advice.

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