Your DPIA isn’t a tick box exercise: 3 ways to get more out of your DPIA!

By Laura Natrop

The DPIA (Data Protection Impact Assessment) is unfortunately often regarded as a "tick box exercise": something you simply have to do. But once the DPIA is completed, it's done: there's a good chance the outcome will disappear into the proverbial (and sometimes even literal) dusty cabinet.

As a DPIA enthusiast, I find that quite a pity, of course. The DPIA is, in fact, a wonderful instrument for managing privacy risks and making targeted improvements to your processes. How do you do this? There’s various ways. I'd like to provide three examples of how a DPIA can be used as an improvement instrument rather than being a mere paper tiger.

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1. Regular DPIA

By far the most common example is using the DPIA as the starting point for improvement activities. The organization wants to implement a process (or already implemented a process) which involves the processing of personal data and wants to know how (well) privacy is safeguarded within it, as well as identify areas where improvement measures can be implemented.

With the DPIA in hand, the risks become clear, allowing the organization to improve the process. Responsible owners are assigned to the identified improvement measures, and a single responsible person is designated to report progress to the process owner. Or even better: during the DPIA workshop itself, participants realize that they can implement the necessary improvements themselves. Well done!

2. Evolving DPIA

While the DPIA in the previous example was a snapshot of that moment in time, the "evolving" DPIA takes it a step further. The goal remains the same: process improvement. However, the difference is that the evolving DPIA is conducted at multiple points in time. The DPIA evolves along with the process development, ensuring that privacy is applied "by design."

Before the new process goes "live," the significant risks and potential measures are identified. The specifics of the new process don't need to be clear yet, but a high-level assessment is conducted regarding the main privacy implications and the feasibility of the process. The organization incorporates solutions for the identified concerns or issues into the further development of the process. This is a great example of using the DPIA to achieve 'Privacy by Design.'

Subsequently, as the project progresses and new implementation choices are made, the DPIA is reevaluated to determine the impact on risks and whether additional measures are necessary. The DPIA is thus periodically reevaluated throughout the development, with each logical step, and the follow-up of measures remains transparent, following a controlled and predictable process.

3. DPIA as Input for Risk Management

The need to effectively monitor privacy risks is growing steadily. Managers and Data Protection Officers (DPOs) want insights into the risks an organization faces and which cross-process measures need to be taken. Privacy risks are increasingly becoming a part of organization-wide integrated risk management (alongside financial and operational risks, for instance). In such cases, the DPIA serves as the starting point for privacy risk management.

The conducted DPIAs identify risks and measures associated with specific processes. When these are consolidated into a central overview, such as a risk register, it becomes possible to drive improvements across processes. The management is then provided reports on the risks and the status of risk treatment, potentially through dashboards and other visual aids.

An advantageous outcome of utilizing DPIAs in this manner is that it often boosts privacy awareness, particularly among the management of the organization who often receive these types of reports on privacy for the first time. By making privacy matters more tangible, it becomes easier (because it’s supported by data) to get the right people engaged.

The DPIA is not an endpoint in these examples, but rather a starting point for improvement! Therefore, don't let the DPIA vanish into the proverbial dusty cabinet.

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Do you want to learn more about DPIAs?

Contact Laura Natrop.

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