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Data Protection Policies: Are You Doing Enough to Ensure Compliance?

Compliance with relevant global data privacy regulations continues to prove challenging for companies of all sizes. From navigating complicated regulatory language to implementing appropriate safeguards, it’s not straightforward to protect personal data.

Regular media coverage highlights data breaches, with large organizations frequently making the news for breaches of privacy legislation accompanied by enormous fines. The question every organization needs to address is whether they are doing enough to comply with data privacy laws. This article offers some pointers to help answer that question along with tips for improvement. 

Data Protection Laws: A Brief Run-Through

The first part of the challenge in developing an adequate data protection policy for your company is knowing which regulations you need to comply with. The privacy acts you need to comply with depend largely on the nature of your business, the geographic areas you operate in, and the type of data within your organization. Each of the following laws has its own distinct rules and necessary security measures for compliance.

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): The most stringent compliance regulation protects data for European Union citizens and residents. GDPR has an extraterritorial scope, which means organizations outside the EU risk non-compliance if they process data belonging to citizens/residents in Europe and don’t abide by the rules.
  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) & California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA): Both regulations protect consumer data belonging to citizens living in California. CPRA introduced more robust rules that strengthen privacy protection measures in regard to the processing of personal data. These acts set out the standard for similar state laws to follow suit with their own similar comprehensive privacy laws, including Virginia, Connecticut, Colorado, and Utah. The New York Privacy Act now also applies to businesses that control personal data.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA): This framework for financial institutions to protect consumer financial information through what’s known as the “Privacy Rule” and the “Safeguards Rule.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established both of these important rules.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): Being one of the most sensitive types of data to face cybersecurity threats, health information (including biometric data) requires strict protection in the United States via HIPAA requirements.
  • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): This set of security standards aims to ensure that all companies that accept, process, store, or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): This law receives relatively minor publicity, but it’s important to be aware of. COPPA protects the privacy of children under the age of 13 in the United States by mandating parental consent for the collection or use of any personal information of children.

Part of the challenge is that each of these laws may have its own specific rules about data retention, data portability, data transfers, data sharing, erasure, profiling, etc. You also need to fully understand the definitions of personally identifiable information, healthcare data, and other data types before you process personal data in alignment with the rules that protect it. Furthermore, in an increasingly privacy-aware world, new laws and data protection acts will undoubtedly emerge to further strengthen consumer data privacy.

Real-World Examples of Compliance Failures

To get a flavor of the ways in which companies don’t do enough to ensure compliance, here are a few real-world examples of compliance failures in recent years:

  • Facebook owner Meta received a €1.2 billion fine in 2023 after mishandling user data under GDPR requirements. The breaches related to insufficient protection for data transferred from the EU to the US.
  • In 2021, Amazon was fined €746 million under GDPR for failing to enforce proper consent in its targeted advertising campaigns.
  • WhatsApp was fined €228 million in 2021 for failing to be transparent to users about the information collected on them. The relevant breaches were of Articles 12-14 in GDPR.

These real-world examples show that even the largest companies are not doing enough to ensure compliance. Technical and organizational failures can affect any business and it’s vital to continually make efforts to improve compliance.

Tips for Improving Compliance

Here are some tips to improve your data protection policy and strategy to ensure compliance.

  1. Update Privacy Policies Regularly. Make sure that your privacy policy is up to date and aligns with current laws and regulations based on what data you can collect. Also, make this policy easily accessible and written in clear, precise language.
  2. Data Minimization. Only collect and process the data that is absolutely necessary for your business operations. Unnecessary data collection increases the risk of data breaches and legal non-compliance.
  3. Secure Data Storage and Transmission. Use strong encryption for both data storage and transmission to prevent unauthorized access. Strengthen authentication so that you don’t only rely on passwords to verify user identities. Regularly test and upgrade security systems and security policies to adapt to emerging threats.
  4. Regular Compliance Audits. Conduct regular audits to verify compliance with data privacy laws and regulations. This could involve internal audits as well as third-party assessments of service providers that have access to your systems or sensitive data. In particular, identify all your data assets so that you can flag any sensitive information that’s not appropriately protected in line with relevant laws.
  5. Employee Training. Regularly train employees on data security best practices and the specific laws that your company must comply with. Effective training helps to prevent unintentional breaches caused by staff members, which is one of the most common causes of compliance failures.
  6. Data Breach Response Plan. Develop a comprehensive data breach response plan. This includes immediate steps to be taken after a breach, who should be contacted, how to identify what was breached, and how to communicate with affected parties. An effective response plan is one of the most important privacy practices to implement because many compliance failures often involve breach notification delays to relevant authorities.
  7. Vendor Management. Ensure any third-party vendors that have access to your data also comply with necessary data privacy laws. Incorporate clauses in contracts that hold them responsible for any breaches on their end.
  8. Appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO). Depending on the size of your company and the nature of the data being handled, it’s often beneficial to appoint a DPO. The DPO takes responsibility for overseeing data protection strategy and implementation to ensure compliance with applicable laws.
  9. Privacy Impact Assessment. When launching new products, services, or initiatives, conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment to identify potential privacy risks and ways to mitigate them.
  10. Data Subject Rights. Ensure processes are in place to handle customer requests regarding their data, such as accessing their data, rectifying incorrect information, or deleting their data when requested.

Opt for Dedicated Data Loss Prevention

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools play a significant role in helping you comply with data privacy laws by preventing unauthorized access and disclosure of sensitive data. These tools work in three main ways.

  1. Data Identification: DLP tools can identify sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial information, or health records across an organization’s network, storage, and endpoints. By knowing where sensitive data resides, organizations can ensure proper protections are in place.
  2. Policy Enforcement: DLP tools enable organizations to establish and enforce policies that control how sensitive data is handled. For example, a DLP tool could prevent sending sensitive information to unauthorized recipients, or block the copying of such data to an unsecured location.
  3. Incident Response and Reporting: DLP tools can provide detailed reports on potential data loss incidents, and in some cases, can automatically take action to remediate risks, like alerting administrators or encrypting data on the fly. This visibility and response capability is crucial for demonstrating compliance with data privacy laws.

By proactively identifying and controlling sensitive information, DLP helps organizations manage their data in accordance with privacy laws and reduce the risk of non-compliance and the often-associated hefty penalties.

Endpoint Protector by CoSoSys provides your business with industry-leading DLP that works across multiple operating systems. From data protection to addressing remote work risks, insider threats, and preventing breaches from employee mistakes, Endpoint Protector’s Device Control, Content Aware Protection, Enforced Encryption, and eDiscovery help ensure that your business does enough to ensure compliance.

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