DPO or not to DPO: The Data Protection Officer under GDPR

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The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is nearly upon us and one of the elements is the requirement for certain organisations to have a Data Protection Officer.

This throws up some interesting issues. A qualified, experienced data protection officer is a valuable commodity. They do exist but command salaries approaching £50,000 in large organisations (stop laughing at the back) and if you’re a small organisation they’re not going to work for you for peanuts. So where do you find a qualified, experienced DPO?

Secondly will there be a requirement upon you to have one? It looks like there will be three clear cases.

  1. processing is carried out by a public authority,
  2. the core activities of the controller or processor consist of processing which, by its nature, scope or purposes, requires regular and systematic monitoring
    of data subjects on a large scale
  3. the core activities consist of processing on a large scale of special categories of data.

But to go back to the DPO what does qualified mean? Yes there are qualifications out there. The accepted gold standard in the UK is the BCS certificate which has 40 hours of training plus a testing 3 hour exam. There are other firms in the sector who offer their own versions and most of them involve significant study (30 or 40 hours) plus exam. Other qualifications exist, like our GDPR Practitioner Certificate (GDPR.Cert) and CIPP certification from the International Association of Privacy Professionals – some for US and some for UK professionals – but the question everyone wants answering is which qualifications will satisfy the GDPR?

Do training providers have to apply for acceptance or endorsement from the EU or their national regulator? Will the content of these courses be examined or will a standard be set and the training providers tailor their material to a certain level or will it be a free for all with no standard to work to? Do you want a DPO who knows how to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment or who knows about International Data Transfers or one with an understanding of the history of Data Protection? Or will there be a requirement to study a certain (large) number of hours to demonstrate competence? At the moment it looks like all the DPO will need is “sufficient expert knowledge” which doesn’t in itself mean a qualification.

Other skills required by a good DPO are those of Diplomat, Trainer; Advisor, Confidante; Interpreter; Persuader; Listener; Friend to requestors; Policy & procedures writer. They have the ability to talk to the top level of the organisation yet explain complex law in Plain English. Not your run of the mill person.

It looks like the route map will require the DPO to be an employee but one with a different type of outlook. Privacy is becoming a big vote winner; organisations who don’t respect customers privacy will feel the backlash of disgruntled consumers. It really needs someone who is part of the organisation who is present at all times and understand the data processing systems of their employer but is detached enough to be able to criticize his own organisation.

There is a way out for small organisations who think they need a DPO to ensure their organisation is fully compliant with the new regulation. Don’t give the job to an existing member of staff and expect them to learn it on the job; Don’t appoint a knowledgeable, qualified, experienced but expensive DPO – bring in an external one you can use as and when you need them.

Externals have significant benefits. They don’t work full time so the on costs disappear; You can bring them in as required for short term task and finish assignments; You can save the costs of training and continuing education for an internal data protection officer; your staff will react better to an external who appears to have the status of a “consultant”.

Externals also won’t have any political or organisational baggage and can act in an unbiased manner without fear for their job. An external data protection officer also has no worries about favouring certain departments or individuals in the company. Many organisations appoint their Head of Legal as their DPO which brings with it the ethical/legal/best course of action conflict. An external won’t need to bother with this.

You can concentrate on your core business and the external can take care of your data protection.

Once you have appointed an external DPO they will compile a detailed data protection audit on your data protection compliance. They will then identify possible data protection issues and legal risks and explain what is required to remedy them. Then you can start making the necessary changes.  Your business will soon be in full compliance with current data protection laws.

But it doesn’t stop there. The external DPO will be on call and can discuss day-to-day DP issues by phone or email for a small fee. If more detailed work is required further fees and timescales can be agreed.

Working with an external data protection officer is based on a consulting agreement. There may be a retainer fee plus an hourly or daily rate to follow. If your Data Protection needs are low you may not have to consult your EDPO too often.

Not surprisingly EDPOs are starting to appear on the web. They’re quite common in Germany and it’s likely they will become a staple in the UK. Various UK law firms advertise such a service but unsurprisingly the rates they charge are not on view. It might end up costing more than you think especially if you opt for a ’big’ name.

There’s also the scope however for sharing a DPO. This has already happened in various parts of the country as cash strapped rural councils pay for a percentage of a DPO and have them on site part of a week.

At a recent educational conference a group of 30 schools in the same region kicked around the idea of each contributing to buy a DPO for all of them who would fulfill their information law obligations. Sounds quite a good idea until you realise there’s only about 240 working days in a year so each school would have 8 of those days to themselves and the shared DPO would have a significant petrol expenses tab. A few rural councils with a shared DPO would have a much better deal.

Sadly GDPR is not well understood and there are those who think Brexit will derail it (though not true) but a wise organisation should be thinking now if and when they will need a DPO, what qualification they will have and how do they find one.

An external who is called on infrequently might appear be the cheapest option but might have further hidden costs and a part share of a DPO might be a good short term solution but would they be as good as the expert knowledge and day to day hands on work of a full timer.

Good news for Data Protection Officers…

We are running a series of GDPR webinars and workshops and our team of experts are available to come to your organisation to deliver customised data protection/GDPR workshops as well as to carry out health checks and audits. Our GDPR Practitioner Certificate (GDPR.Cert), with an emphasis on the practical skills required to implement GDPR, is an ideal qualification for those aspiring for such positions.

This entry was posted in Data Protection, EU DP Regulation, GDPR, ICO, Personal Data, personal data, Tribunal and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to DPO or not to DPO: The Data Protection Officer under GDPR

  1. Pingback: GDPR is here to stay but what happens next? | Blog Now

  2. Pingback: New GDPR Practitioner Certificate Launched! | Blog Now

  3. Pingback: GDPR and the Data Protection Bill: Myths and Misunderstandings | Blog Now

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