The European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is causing a seismic shift in the digital information space, and, whether your company has a presence in Europe or not, the sweeping regulation likely applies. As a director in the era of bet-the-farm digital transformation, familiarity with the basics of GDPR is a must. To that end, Michael Walter and Joel Wuesthoff, experts from Protiviti and Robert Half Legal, respectively, recently presented the ins and outs of the regulation at an NACD Atlanta Chapter program.
Does GDPR even apply to my company?
Effective May 25, 2018, it probably does. The regulation is borderless and applies to all organizations—regardless of size and regardless of whether they have a physical European location—that collect and process personal data of data subjects in the EU. An EU data subject is anyone from whom personal data is collected while in the EU (i.e. data subject is not limited to someone with EU “citizenship”). For example, a skier from Colorado who buys a snowboard online while in the EU may subject the product seller to the GDPR. The rules apply to both data controllers and data processors. The range of information that is protected is quite broad, ranging from vehicle identification numbers to photos to employment information to IP addresses.
If GDPR applies, what’s the big deal?
In the U.S., personal information is often collected as a matter of course, with only an “opt out” offered to consumers. By contrast, GDPR requires that in order to collect information from EU data subjects, an affirmative “opt in” consent must be obtained that clearly specifies how the data will be used. Privacy policies must match. Then, once information is obtained, the EU data subject has the right to request that his or her data be deleted; that is, to invoke the right “to be forgotten.” Incorrect information must be corrected upon request. These rights may seem simple enough, but when data is held in multiple locations, developing a process to handle such requests may be quite difficult.
The burdens of GDPR cannot be outsourced, as companies have joint and several liability with third-party vendors. Due diligence requirements for vendors therefore will be heightened, and all in scope data processors will need to be GDPR compliant.
What if my company has a data breach or fails to comply?
In the event of a data breach involving an EU subject, the breached company has 72 hours to notify regulators and must notify EU data subjects without undue delay under certain conditions.
Fines for failure to comply with GDPR can be up to 20M Euros or four percent of an organization’s annual global turnover, whichever is higher. Further, data subjects can claim compensation for damages from breaches of their personal data.
GDPR won’t be enforced right away, will it?
The expectation is that GDPR likely will be enforced right away against global organizations that collect large volumes of personal data. However, beware. EU countries continue to hire people for enforcement of the GDPR. Also, since individuals have a right of action, it is unclear whether GDPR will be used as a manner of protest against companies that are unpopular with EU data subjects.
What should I be asking management?
The path to compliance with GDPR will require a multi-functional task force, including information technology, legal, human resources, privacy, and other functions. Directors may consider asking about the key phases of compliance:
- Discovery and inventory: Have we identified high risk areas to ensure a focused approach?
- Gap analysis: Have we determined exposure and prioritized compliance activities?
- Compliance remediation: Are we implementing changes to achieve compliance?
- Ongoing compliance: Are we prepared to provide evidence of accountability and compliance?
Boards may also want to discuss the appointment of—and ramifications of having—a data protection officer (DPO), required under GDPR for companies processing large scale data; however, bear in mind that the DPO is a unique intermediary between the regulators, the organization and the data subjects who is required to be an independent actor within the organization reporting up to the highest levels of the organization. Care must be taken prior to appointing a DPO as significant obligations attach once this decision is made.
In short, GDPR’s long reach and substantial requirements merit fulsome discussions in the boardroom, even of U.S. companies. Is your company ready?
Looking to learn more about how your board will be impacted by GDPR? Stay tuned. NACD will release an FAQ brief in May.
Kimberly Simpson is an NACD regional director, providing strategic support to NACD chapters in the Capital Area, Atlanta, Florida, the Carolinas, North Texas and the Research Triangle. Simpson, a former general counsel, was a U.S. Marshall Memorial Fellow to Europe in 2005.