GDPR Compliance: A Practical Guide

GDPR Compliance: A Practical Guide

What Is GDPR Compliance? 

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It’s a regulation that was enacted by the European Union (EU) and went into effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR is considered the most comprehensive data protection law in the world. It places stringent requirements on how personal data is collected, stored, and managed. GDPR compliance refers to the process of ensuring that all these requirements are met by an organization.

While the GDPR is an EU law, it has global implications. Any entity that collects, stores, or processes the personal data of EU residents, regardless of its location, is subject to the law. This includes multinational corporations, small businesses, non-profit organizations, and even government agencies. Therefore, GDPR compliance is not just a concern for EU-based organizations, but for any organization that interacts with EU residents’ data in any way.

The penalties for non-compliance can be severe, with fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover, whichever is higher. Furthermore, non-compliance can result in significant reputational damage. Therefore, GDPR compliance is a critical business requirement for millions of organizations around the world.

What is the Purpose of GDPR? 

The primary purpose of the GDPR is to protect the personal data of EU residents. In today’s digital age, personal data has become a valuable commodity. It is collected, stored, processed, and sold by organizations for a variety of purposes, ranging from marketing to research. However, this data collection has also led to numerous privacy breaches, with personal data often falling into the wrong hands.

The GDPR places the control of personal data back into the hands of individuals, giving them the right to decide who can collect their data, how it can be used, and when it should be deleted. It also requires organizations to be transparent about their data practices and to take appropriate measures to protect personal data from unauthorized access or loss.

The GDPR also aims to harmonize data protection laws across the EU, creating a single set of rules that apply to all EU member states. This makes it easier for organizations to understand and comply with the law, reducing the legal complexities of operating in multiple EU countries.

Who is Subject to GDPR Compliance? 

Any entity that collects, stores, or processes the personal data of EU residents, regardless of its geographic location, is subject to the law. This includes organizations of all sizes, from multinational corporations to small businesses, and across all sectors, from retail to healthcare.

Even if an organization does not directly collect personal data from EU residents, it can still be subject to GDPR. For example, if an organization provides services to another organization that collects personal data from EU residents, the service provider is also required to comply with GDPR.

Moreover, GDPR applies to both controllers and processors of personal data. A controller is an entity that determines the purposes and means of processing personal data, while a processor is an entity that processes personal data on behalf of the controller. Both controllers and processors have specific obligations under GDPR and can be held liable for non-compliance.

What Data Does GDPR Protect? 

The GDPR protects a wide range of personal data. This includes any information that can be used to identify an individual, either directly or indirectly. Examples of personal data include names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and identification numbers.

But the GDPR goes beyond just basic personal data. It also protects sensitive personal data, which includes information about an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, health information, and information about a person’s sexual orientation.

Moreover, the GDPR protects online identifiers, such as IP addresses, cookies, and mobile device identifiers. It even protects pseudonymized data, which is data that has been transformed in such a way that it can no longer be attributed to a specific individual without the use of additional information.

Key Requirements of GDPR 

Here is a brief summary of the GDPR requirements:

  • Lawful, fair and transparent processing: Organizations must have a lawful basis for processing personal data, and they must be clear and upfront about how they will use personal data.
  • Purpose limitation: Personal data should only be collected for specified, explicit, and legitimate purposes, and should not be further processed in a way that is incompatible with those purposes.
  • Data minimization: Personal data must be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed. This could involve anonymizing or pseudonymizing data to reduce the risk of harm to individuals.
  • Accuracy: Personal data must be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date. Any inaccurate data should be rectified or deleted without delay.
  • Storage limitation: Personal data should not be kept for longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they are processed. Organizations should have clear policies in place for data retention and deletion.
  • Integrity and confidentiality: This principle states that personal data should be processed in a way that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage.
  • Accountability: Organizations must not only comply with the GDPR, but also be able to demonstrate their compliance. This could involve maintaining detailed records of data processing activities, carrying out regular audits, and appointing a data protection officer.
  • Right to be Forgotten: EU citizens have the right to have their data erased within a reasonable period by the data controller if one of the following grounds applies:
    • Where PII is no longer necessary in relation to the purpose for which it was collected or processed
    • Where the PII owner withdraws consent or objects to the processing, and there is no lawful basis to continue processing the data
    • If the data is being used for direct marketing only, or a child is involved
    • Where the owner objects to the processing and there is no overriding lawful/legitimate grounds for continuation, or PII data must be erased in order to comply with a legal obligation

GDPR Fines and Penalties for Noncompliance 

Noncompliance with the GDPR can result in hefty fines and penalties. The maximum fine for a serious violation is up to 20 million Euros or 4% of the company’s global annual turnover, whichever is higher. Lesser violations can result in a fine of up to 10 million Euros or 2% of the company’s global annual turnover. 

Since the enactment of GDPR in 2018, the EU has begun enforcing the law more strictly, and in recent years fines of hundreds of millions of dollars were imposed on several companies. However, fines are not the only risk. Noncompliance can also result in damage to a company’s reputation, loss of customer trust, and potential legal action from individuals whose data has been misused.

Related content: Read our guide to GDPR fines.

The Intersection between GDPR and AI 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken the world by storm, revolutionizing various sectors including healthcare, finance, and marketing to name a few. However, with the rise of AI comes an increased risk to personal data security. The GDPR is playing an important role in guiding the ethical use of AI.

AI systems often require large amounts of data to function effectively. This data often includes personal information, which is protected under GDPR. Therefore, organizations using AI must ensure they are compliant with GDPR. Failure to do so can result in legal penalties. The intersection between GDPR and AI is thus a critical area for businesses to understand and navigate.

While GDPR offers protection for personal data, it also encourages innovation in AI, by including provisions for AI development. By setting guidelines for data usage, GDPR helps businesses develop AI systems that respect privacy and uphold ethical standards.

Related content: Read our guide to GDPR and AI.

A Brief Checklist to Ensure GDPR Compliance 

Here are a few measures you can take to improve your organization’s GDPR compliance:

  • Implement privacy by design: This concept requires organizations to consider privacy at the initial design stages of any project involving personal data. It also demands the inclusion of privacy features throughout the entire lifecycle of the project. This means considering data protection implications from the onset of any project, and ensuring that privacy safeguards are built into your systems and processes.
  • Develop and document data protection policies: This includes determining how personal data is collected, processed, stored, and shared within the organization. These policies should detail your organization’s approach to data protection and provide guidelines for employees to follow.
  • Establish  processes for data access, rectification, erasure, and portability: It is important to handle data-related requests within the specified timeframes. Under GDPR, individuals have the right to access their personal data, correct inaccuracies, erase their data, and transfer their data to another entity. Organizations must set up systems to locate and retrieve personal data, and processes to correct, erase, or transfer data.
  • Implement robust security measures: The GDPR requires businesses to take appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure the security of personal data. This includes implementing encryption to protect data, establishing access controls to restrict who can access personal data, and conducting regular security assessments to identify and address potential vulnerabilities.
  • Appoint a DPO where required: Depending on the size and nature of your business, you may be required to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO). This is a person who is responsible for overseeing data protection strategy and implementation within the organization.
  • Develop a data breach response plan: This plan should outline the steps to take in the event of a data breach, including identifying the breach, containing it, assessing the impact, notifying the relevant parties, and taking measures to prevent future breaches. Under the GDPR, businesses may be required to report data breaches to the relevant supervisory authority within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach.
  • Establish and enforce data retention policies: This involves determining how long personal data should be retained and what should happen to it after the retention period expires. Under GDPR, personal data should only be kept for as long as necessary for the purposes for which it was collected. After the retention period expires, the data should be deleted or anonymized.

Related content: Read our guide to GDPR compliance.

GDPR Compliance with Exabeam

At Exabeam, trust is the cornerstone of how we operate — encompassing everything from how we build our products to how we run our operations. We understand that one of your most valuable assets is your data, and we focus on ensuring your data is secure, data privacy rules are followed, and the platform has a high uptime.

The Exabeam AI-driven Security Operations Platform provides a centralized mechanism where each application team can send events to the audit log for compliance and threat detection use cases. Users will store audit events for the duration of their contract terms, search and action the events as they would any other 3rd party log in the Exabeam Platform. Users may configure correlation rules against the audit log to detect non-compliance events and may configure dashboards with any events in the event store, including audit log events.

Audit logs represent the user, object, or setting events in your organization. Specific events related to all Exabeam users are logged, including activities within the user interface and configuration activities. Exabeam stores all audit logs and provides a query interface in Search that you can use to find and export audit logs. This, along with visualization in Dashboards and exporting, is especially useful for reviewing activities for GDPR audits 

For more info, visit the Exabeam Compliance page