Who Needs a Data Protection Officer and Their Responsibilities

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the European Union’s main piece of legislation tackling data protection and how it should be upheld. GDPR covers a lot of ground, legally and technically.

That is a good thing for consumers and data subjects but quite taxing for businesses and controllers who are expected to comply with it strictly. If the EU’s mandate covers your business or organization, then you should make sure that you follow the GDPR properly.

Following the EU’s set of rules is one thing, but understanding every bit of the General Data Protection Regulation is another. Since the GDPR is comprehensive, you need to be able to take in all the sections and apply it to practice at the same time.

It can be challenging to do if you do not specialize in data protection. That is why the EU requires most organizations to have their own Data Protection Officer.

What is a data protection officer?

Data Protection Officer

A Data Protection Officer (DPO) is a role created under the mandate of the General Data Protection Regulation. A DPO is expected to know the General Data Protection Regulation and make sure that their company complies with GDPR’s set of rules and regulations.

At the same time, a DPO is responsible for crafting effective data protection strategies and overseeing the operationalization of existing data protection and data privacy policies.

It is important to note that under GDPR, a DPO should work independently to avoid undue influence from inside management. They should not receive guidelines regarding how they perform their duties, as it is already laid down in the GDPR.

Additionally, organizations and companies should make sure that their DPOs are supported so that they can carry out their duties effectively. Moreover, there shouldn’t be a conflict of interest between their duties as DPOs and their other responsibilities in the company.

With the help of a Data Protection Officer, companies and organizations will be able to adhere to the EU’s mandate without being stretched too thin because of a lack of knowledge or resources regarding this existing piece of legislation.

Who needs a data protection officer?

If your business or organization deals with the personal information of EU residents, you should make sure that you comply with the GDPR. However, not everyone is required to hire a Data Protection Officer. Businesses and organizations are only required to hire DPOs if they meet any of the following criteria:

Public authority

If a public authority or public body is in charge of processing the personal data they’ve collected, then they are required to have their own DPO. Note that courts acting in their official capacity are exempt from this rule.

Large-scale, regular monitoring

If the core activities of the business or organization are related to the processing of the data, then they should have their own DPO. It is especially required if the scope or purpose of their regular and systemic data monitoring is conducted on a large-scale basis.

Large-scale, special categories of data

If the core activities of the business or organization are related to the processing of special data categories on a large scale, then they are required to have their own Data Protection Officer.

Note that the terms “large scale” and “core activities” are not defined under GDPR. However, the EU released a guideline on Data Protection Officers to give an even more in-depth and detailed version for those who need it.

Additionally, the term “large scale” does not necessarily mean that small to medium enterprises are exempted from this rule. Even if you run an SME, if the volume of the data you’re processing meets the “large scale” criteria, then you are required to have your own DPO.

Qualifications of a data protection officer

Not everyone can be a Data Protection Officer. A good DPO should be familiar with the way business is conducted on a daily basis. They should likewise have sufficient knowledge of data security processes from an IT perspective or a legal background related to data processing and security.

While GDPR doesn’t have an exact set of qualifications for DPOs, it is stipulated that the experience and knowledge of the DPO must be determined according to the types of data they will be dealing with. Here are some of the recommended qualifications that one should note:

  • With significant experience with working with EU and global privacy laws
  • With enough experience in IT programming/infrastructure for security standard certification purposes
  • With experience in conducting audits and risk assessments

For a more detailed list of recommended qualifications, it would be best to visit the GDPR website.

Responsibilities and requirements of a data protection officer

A Data Protection Officer has a set of tasks and responsibilities that should be adequately performed to be compliant with GDPR rules. Here are some of the essential roles of a DPO:

  • Data subjects and data controllers should be informed about their rights, obligations, and responsibilities.
  • Provide a policy or advice for the business or organization so that they can correctly understand and apply the existing data protection rules.
  • Make sure that their organization/business is compliant with the GDPR; accountability should be established as well.
  • Answer questions or complaints from all parties (controllers, processor, data subject) correctly to make GDPR rules clearer.
  • Properly inform the institution they’re working for if they are not complying with GDPR’s guidelines.

It's a good idea to visit the European Data Protection Supervisor website for more details regarding DPO’s tasks and responsibilities.

What happens if I don’t appoint a DPO?

Not everyone is required to appoint a DPO. Only institutions that meet the criteria are mandated to do so. However, institutions that are not required to have their own DPO may still hire their own, provided that they know their DPOs will still be subject to the same rules and regulations as other DPOs.

For businesses that are required to have a DPO, you should make sure that you do so to avoid facing hefty penalties. Failure to comply may cost you 4% of your global revenue or up to €20 million, whichever is higher. To prevent such losses, it would be advisable to follow the EU’s lead on data privacy policy.

Final words

Regardless if you’re required to do so or not, it is still ideal to have your own Data Protection Officer. Handling sensitive private information is almost always a given, so it’s better to be prepared and know how to deal with those efficiently as early as possible. Having a dependable DPO will help you with that.