GDPR data protection audit – why and when is it needed?

Updated on 31.11.2023

The first thing to consider is whether you wish to map and assess the current state of personal data protection in your organization or need a list of actions to help you plan your compliance activities. In either case, it is appropriate to involve experts to help in both mapping the shortcomings and in planning the way forward. However, for a practical course of work, the client and the expert must understand the objective similarly.

A data protection audit can be either the first or the last step

An audit, in the broader sense, can therefore be either the primary or the final activity in achieving compliance with the EU General Data Protection Regulation and e-privacy rules, depending on the purpose for which it is carried out. Once an organization has established internal policies, processes, website documentation, etc., it would be an appropriate time to have a neutral external party assess the compliance of this set of policies, processes, website documentation, etc. (compliance audit).

The result could be a set of valuable and practical tips that will help raise compliance with GDPR requirements to a new level. However, suppose the aim is an overview of the privacy rules to plan necessary steps. In that case, an expert can provide early input on the prioritization of activities, considering the services offered by the company to its customers.

Similarities and differences between the two approaches to data protection audits

At first glance, these approaches do not appear to be very different; in reality, they are rather coinciding. Still, it is important to understand that one approach assesses the requirements arising from the specificity of the organization and provides these as input to the compliance project. At the same time, the other approach also assesses the documents and processes already in place. The initial workload may be higher, but the follow-up workload may eventually be lower.

In any case, audits are helpful for an organization active in processing personal data, achieving and ensuring compliance, raising awareness, and demonstrating due diligence in the event of an incident.

GDPR audit value

The value arising from a GDPR audit could be listed as follows:

  • Helps to ensure that relevant data protection policies are enforced
  • Identifies vulnerabilities in processes that could lead to data breaches
  • Assesses internal control mechanisms
  • Helps to clarify and communicate the allocation of responsibilities within the organization
  • Evaluates all approved data protection principles, processes, documentation, and communication to ensure compliance with them
  • Recommends changes to policies, processes, and documents
  • Helps raise awareness of data protection
  • Assesses, in a neutral manner, the organization’s compliance with the GDPR and the associated risks
  • Provides expertise for upgrades, future training, and improvements
  • Helps to raise data protection awareness to senior management level, both in terms of accountability and value.

In addition, the audit process also provides valuable answers to frequently asked questions:

1. What do data protection principles mean, and how do we apply them (data accuracy, minimality, purpose, reliability and confidentiality, retention limitation, legality and transparency, and accountability)?

2. Do we need to ask for people’s consent to process data, and when?

3. For which purposes are we allowed to process personal data in the first place?

4. Do our services require personalized data, and when is data sufficiently anonymous?

5. How do we ensure people’s rights to their data in practice (right to request, erase, correct, transfer data, etc.)?

6. Do we need to have a data protection procedure register, and what should we register there?

7. Do we need to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO)?

8. Do we need to carry out Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs)?

9. Do we need to carry out Legitimate Interest Assessments (LIAs)?

10. How to set the correct data retention periods?

11. Can we use service providers outside the EU to process customer data, and under what conditions?

12. What should we do in the event of a personal data breach?

13. Does implementing information security make our data protection accurate too?

14. Are risk management and data protection the same thing?

Planning a data protection audit

A personal data protection audit is generally a complex and time-consuming process, the success of which depends mainly on the cooperation between the client and the experts. It is best to start by assessing the need for an audit and planning its aim and extent in consultation with an expert in the field.

Should you have any further questions, please contact our Specialist Data Privacy Counsel, Andres Ojaver.

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