Data Protection Officer (DPO): Why Your Business Needs One

A data protection officer (DPO) is like a traffic cop. A traffic cop monitors all vehicles on their route and ensures traffic moves along smoothly without a hitch.

Similarly, a DPO helps your business maintain compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to reduce chaos.

The GDPR rulebook can be challenging if you’re not a GDPR specialist. You run a higher risk of non-compliance, which could lead to a penalty of 4% of your global revenue or up to €20 million, whichever is higher. Once your business is slapped with a non-compliance fine, playing the ignorance card won’t fly.

Fortunately, a DPO can help prevent such losses. However, to get the maximum benefit out of a DPO, you need to understand the ins and outs of this role.

What Is a Data Protection Officer (DPO)?

A data protection officer is an independent, company leadership official with expertise in General Data Protection Regulation. The DPO role was created under the GDPR to conduct internal privacy assessments to oversee, supervise and provide consultation on all matters related to the GDPR. A DPO has direct access to senior managers to help in decision-making on the personal information processing front. However, the senior management has limited control over the DPO. This is put in place to ensure the DPO are not pressurized by senior managers in the event of a conflict of interest. It’s the same reason why IT managers are not allowed to assume the role of a DPO under any circumstance.

Which Organizations Need to Hire a Data Protection Officer?

As per the GDPR, hiring a DPO is mandatory for some organizations, but not all. However, even if your organization doesn’t require a DPO, it is recommended that you appoint one. Having a GDPR specialist can go a long way towards keeping your business compliant.

According to GDPR Article 37, hiring a DPO is mandatory under these circumstances:

  • Public authority or body – When a public authority or public body is in charge of processing the personal data of EU citizens.
  • Large-scale, regular monitoring – When the scope or purpose of regular and systemic data monitoring is conducted on a large-scale basis.
  • Large-scale, special categories of data – When the core activities of the organization are related to the processing of special data categories on a large scale.

Data Protection Officer: Role And Responsibilities  

A DPO’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Educating the company and its employees on compliance.
  • Training employees that are involved in the data processing.
  • Carrying out data security audits regularly to enable compliance and identify potential issues proactively.
  • Acting as a liaison between the company and relevant GDPR supervisory authorities.
  • Monitoring performance and consulting on better data protection management.
  • Maintaining a record of all data processing activities conducted by the organization, including the purpose behind these activities, which will be made public on request.
  • Ensuring that controllers and data subjects are informed about their data protection rights with regards to how data is being used, erasure of personal data and what data protection measures have been put in place.

Here’s a quick video guide to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of a DPO.

Qualifications of a Data Protection Officer 

Although the GDPR handbook does not specify mandatory qualifications for a data protection officer, a DPO is still required to possess expert knowledge of data protection laws and practices. They need to have a working knowledge of the data processing operations of the business. To sum it up, a general DPO qualification should include — experience with EU privacy laws, understanding of IT technology and internal infrastructures, expertise in conducting information security audits, and leadership skills.

The qualifications may vary a bit based on the complexity of your data processing activities. However, once you have drawn up the desired DPO qualifications, you need to appoint one.

Generally, there are three approaches to appointing a data protection officer:

  • Appointing an existing employee as the DPO only if the employee’s current duties do not conflict with that of the role of a DPO.
  • Permanently hiring a full-time DPO.
  • Outsourcing the DPO role on a contract basis. Many IT service providers offer data protection officer as a service (DPOaaS).

Don’t Rely Solely on a DPO

Although a traffic cop is responsible for the smooth flow of traffic, if an accident does occur, the blame does not fall on the traffic cop. Similarly, while a DPO’s task is to ensure compliance across an organization, he or she cannot be held legally responsible in case of non-compliance. The hiring or appointment of a data protection officer is a proactive measure, not a reactive one. To put it simply, if an organization is found non-compliant due to data loss, a DPO is about as useful as a wooden frying pan.

A DPO should be accompanied by a reliable backup solution like Spanning Backup to keep your business and data protected.

The DPO can use Spanning Reporting to receive a comprehensive insight into the state of all backups and restore activities. In addition, the DPO can opt to receive daily backup status reports via email to stay informed on backup health across their SaaS ecosystem. This information helps the DPO maintain better compliance without breaking a sweat.

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