Your essential guide on how to be GDPR-compliant

Are you unsure about how to be GDPR compliant? This blog post will eliminate the guesswork by providing you with a straightforward plan to meet the EU’s data protection requirements. 

No matter the size or location of your business, if you handle EU residents’ data, it’s crucial to follow GDPR. Read on to discover a concise checklist that cuts through the noise and lays out the exact steps to achieve compliance efficiently.

Key takeaways

  • GDPR applies not only to EU organizations but also to non-EU organizations if they collect data related to people in the EU, which is enforceable with severe penalties for non-compliance.
  • Compliance with GDPR demands adherence to seven key data protection principles, which include lawfulness, fairness, and transparency, amongst others, with the accountability principle requiring evidence of compliance.
  • Thoropass provides tools and solutions, including data mapping, maintaining records of processing activities, and an audit trail, to simplify meeting GDPR requirements and demonstrate compliance

Understanding GDPR: The basics

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted by the European Union (EU) to:

  • Harmonize data privacy laws across Europe
  • Strengthen the rights of EU citizens
  • Reshape the way organizations approach data privacy
  • Secure users’ personal data
  • Provide EU residents with control over their personal information
  • GDPR is a comprehensive and far-reaching regulation.

But, GDPR doesn’t just apply to companies within the EU. It also extends to organizations worldwide if they target or collect data related to people in the EU, including companies outside the EU processing personal data of EU residents. This means that even if your organization is based outside the EU, you may still be required to comply with GDPR.

Non-compliance with GDPR comes with severe penalties. Organizations can face fines reaching up to €20 million or 4% of global revenue, whichever is higher. This underlines the importance of understanding and adhering to GDPR regulations.

GDPR covers a broad range of personal data processing activities carried out by data processors, including:

  • Collecting
  • Recording
  • Accessing
  • Deleting personal data

So, whether you’re a small business owner or the CEO of a multinational corporation, if you’re processing personal data related to EU residents, you need to understand and comply with GDPR.

Determining if your organization needs to comply

Determining if your organization needs to comply with GDPR hinges on two key criteria: the Establishment Criterion and the Targeting Criterion. If your organization meets any of the following criteria, you must comply with GDPR:

  • Your organization is established in the EU
  • Your organization is not established in the EU, but processes personal data of individuals in the EU related to the offering of goods/services
  • Your organization is not established in the EU but monitors the behavior of individuals in the EU.

However, the mere presence of an employee or agent in the EU does not automatically imply GDPR compliance obligations. Such obligations only arise if they constitute an ‘establishment’ with a stable arrangement. Non-EU processors may also still be subject to GDPR if they handle data in a manner that meets the Targeting Criterion.

It’s vital for entities to assess which of their processing activities fall within GDPR’s scope, recognizing that not all processing may be covered. The European Data Protection Board’s guidelines provide clarification on GDPR’s territorial scope but are not legally binding, indicating the need for ongoing interpretation by non-EU businesses.

Key principles of GDPR compliance

The GDPR is grounded in seven key data protection principles that lay the foundation for lawful data processing. These principles are:

  1. Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency
  2. Purpose limitation
  3. Data minimisation
  4. Accuracy
  5. Storage limitation
  6. Integrity and confidentiality (security)
  7. Accountability

To ensure lawfulness in processing personal data, organizations must:

  • Identify a legal basis for data collection and processing activities
  • Ensure fairness by processing data in ways individuals would expect and without causing unjustified adverse effects
  • Maintain transparency by communicating openly and honestly with data subjects about how their data will be utilized.

Under the principle of purpose limitation, personal data must be collected only for explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner incompatible with those purposes. Data minimisation complements this by ensuring that the data collected is adequate, relevant, and limited to necessary purposes.

Data accuracy is another critical component of GDPR compliance, requiring organizations to take every reasonable step to promptly correct or delete inaccurate customer data. Storage limitation dictates that personal data should only be retained for as long as necessary for the intended purposes. Additionally, data portability plays a significant role in ensuring that customers have control over their information, which can help prevent a personal data breach.

Integrity and confidentiality are vital to GDPR compliance, compelling organizations to safeguard data against unauthorized access, as well as accidental loss, destruction, or damage. This is achieved through robust security measures. Moreover, accountability mandates organizations to demonstrate compliance with all of these principles through appropriate documentation, such as conducting a data protection impact assessment and implementation.

Flags of GDPR countries in the European Union on display
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How to be GDPR-compliant: 16 steps

Achieving GDPR compliance may seem a daunting task, but it becomes manageable when broken down into clear steps. Here’s a comprehensive checklist to guide you through the process:

1. Know the data your organization collects

It is critical to have a comprehensive understanding of the types of personal data your organization collects. This knowledge enables you to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect the data, that it is collected for legitimate purposes, and that it complies with data minimization principles. Knowing the data also helps in accurately informing data subjects about the scope and reasons for data collection.

2. Establish legitimate and transparent data handling practices

GDPR mandates that organizations must have a legal basis, such as consent or necessity for the performance of a contract, for data collection and processing activities. Additionally, they must communicate transparently with data subjects about how their data will be used. This includes providing clear information about data collection methods, purposes, and rights of the data subjects, ensuring that the process is not only lawful but also fair and transparent.

3. Assess your data collection requirements

Organizations must assess the personal data they collect to ensure it is strictly necessary for the defined purposes, adhering to the GDPR principle of data minimisation. This evaluation helps in identifying and discontinuing the collection of any unnecessary data, thereby reducing the risk of data breaches and ensuring compliance with the regulation.

4. Ensure proper data security measures

It’s imperative to implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure a high level of security for personal data. This includes encryption, regular cybersecurity assessments, and incident response plans to protect data against unauthorized or unlawful processing, accidental loss, destruction, or damage. By ensuring proper data security measures, organizations can prevent data breaches and maintain the trust of data subjects.

5. Clarify the purposes behind data gathering for data subjects

Transparency is key to GDPR compliance. Organizations must clearly explain to data subjects the reasons for collecting their data and the intended use. This information should be communicated in a straightforward and accessible manner, often through privacy notices or consent forms, to ensure that data subjects are fully informed and can exercise their rights effectively.

6. Implement a mandatory two-step confirmation for new email subscribers

A double opt-in process for email subscriptions is a best practice under GDPR as it confirms the data subject’s explicit consent to receive communications. This method involves sending an initial email to the user asking them to confirm their subscription, ensuring that consent is unambiguous and verifiable.

7. Maintain your privacy policy

An up-to-date privacy policy is crucial for GDPR compliance. This policy should accurately reflect current data processing practices and be easily accessible to data subjects. Regular reviews and updates to the privacy policy ensure that data subjects receive current and accurate information about their data rights and the organization’s data processing activities.

8. Document a record of GDPR compliance efforts

Maintaining records of processing activities is a proactive way to document your GDPR compliance efforts. This documentation should include details of data processing activities, decisions made regarding data handling, and any actions taken to protect personal data. It serves as evidence of your ongoing commitment to GDPR principles and can be invaluable during audits or inspections.

Achieving compliance with EU privacy cookie laws is a critical aspect of GDPR. To meet these requirements, organizations must provide clear and comprehensive information about the use of cookies on their websites. This includes obtaining explicit consent from website visitors before any cookies are placed, except for those strictly necessary for the website’s functionality. 

A cookie consent banner or pop-up that allows users to choose their cookie preferences is an essential tool for this. Additionally, organizations must ensure that the cookie policy is easily accessible and that users can revise their consent choices at any time.

10. Create a portal for data subject rights requests

A Data Subject Rights Request Portal is a dedicated online platform that facilitates the management of data subjects’ requests, such as access, rectification, erasure, and data portability, as outlined in GDPR. 

By providing a user-friendly portal, organizations can streamline the process of responding to these requests within the required timeframe. The portal should be secure, transparent, and maintain a log of all requests and actions taken, which is also helpful for demonstrating compliance with the accountability principle of GDPR.

11. Appoint a data protection officer (DPO)

Organizations engaged in large-scale data processing or special categories of data should appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO). The DPO is responsible for overseeing the data protection strategy, ensuring compliance with GDPR, and acting as a point of contact for supervisory authorities and data subjects

12. Conduct frequent evaluations of third parties

If your organization shares data with third parties, it is important to regularly assess the risks involved and confirm that these third parties are GDPR compliant. This includes conducting due diligence on third-party data processors and ensuring that contractual agreements include obligations to adhere to GDPR standards.

13. Assess international data transfer protocols

International data transfers involve moving personal data outside the EU, which must be handled with strict adherence to GDPR regulations to ensure the continued protection of data subject rights. 

Organizations must review their data transfer mechanisms, such as Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs), Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs), or adequacy decisions, to ensure they provide appropriate safeguards. Regular reviews and updates are necessary to stay abreast of any changes in the legal landscape, such as the Schrems II ruling, affecting international data transfers

14. Conduct regular staff GDPR training programs

Educating staff about GDPR and the importance of secure data processing is essential. Regular GDPR compliance training helps in raising awareness, understanding responsibilities, and ensuring that all employees are equipped to handle personal data appropriately and in line with GDPR requirements.

15. Instantly report data breaches

Under GDPR, organizations are required to report any data breaches to the relevant supervisory authority within 72 hours of becoming aware of the breach. Having an efficient system in place to detect and report breaches promptly is crucial. This system should include clear procedures for staff to follow in the event of a data breach, ensuring swift action to mitigate any potential harm.

16. Develop a comprehensive data breach response plan

Beyond reporting data breaches, an effective Incident Reporting & Breach Management Workflow is essential for GDPR compliance. Organizations must have a robust plan in place to detect, report, and investigate personal data breaches. 

This workflow should outline the steps to be taken by employees in the event of a breach, including immediate actions to secure data, assessment of the breach’s severity, and notification procedures to authorities and affected individuals when necessary. Regular training and simulations can help ensure that all staff members are prepared to respond effectively to data incidents.

Why is GDPR compliance important?

GDPR compliance is about more than just avoiding penalties. It can lead to streamlined and improved business process automation, as organizations reassess how they manage customer and client data during compliance efforts. Achieving GDPR compliance can also increase trust and credibility amongst customers, as it signifies a high level of data protection and security.

Moreover, following GDPR principles gives businesses a better understanding and control over their data, benefiting organizational functions and departments. Some of the benefits include:

  • Improved data management
  • Enhanced data security
  • Increased customer trust and loyalty
  • Compliance with legal requirements
  • The appointment of dedicated data protection officers

Regular internal data audits recommended by GDPR can also lead to improved data management and ensure that businesses are staying compliant with the regulations as a data controller.

Nonetheless, the potential penalties for non-compliance are serious. Companies face severe penalties for GDPR non-compliance, including fines up to €20 million or 4% of the total global turnover of the preceding fiscal year, whichever is higher, for serious violations.

How Thoropass can help with GDPR compliance

Connect with our compliance experts to find out how GDPR applies to your business — no strings attached. Book a chat here.

Our 5-step approach makes GDPR a cinch (okay, not quite a cinch, but as easy as it can get!)

  • STEP 1: Kick-off. After a deep dive into data privacy, our experts customize your GDPR compliance roadmap
  • STEP 2: Onboarding. Get up and running with GDPR policy templates, automated vendor discovery, and clear action items
  • STEP 3: Implementation. Efficiently implement and operationalize GDPR with guided workflows, automation, and support from our experts
  • STEP 4: GDPR assessment and reporting. As a third party, Thoropass delivers a transparent assessment and report to share with customers and prospects

Conclusion: GDPR compliance is crucial

GDPR compliance is crucial for any organization that processes the personal data of EU residents. It ensures the protection of personal data, builds customer trust, and helps avoid severe penalties. 

By understanding the principles of GDPR, determining whether your organization needs to comply, and following a clear step-by-step checklist, you can effectively achieve and maintain GDPR compliance. Tools like Thoropass can further streamline the process, making GDPR compliance a less daunting task.

More FAQs

GDPR is a comprehensive data protection and privacy regulation enacted by the EU. It applies to organizations worldwide that target or collect data related to people in the EU.

To become GDPR certified, you need to demonstrate a reasonable level of security by using internationally recognized standard security controls. There are no specific requirements or official certification for GDPR.

To be GDPR compliant, organizations need to keep records of processing activities, maintain an up-to-date data mapping, and collect and process personal data of users fairly, securely, and lawfully, disclosing details about data handling to users. Compliance also includes the lawful purpose for data collection.

Non-compliance with GDPR can result in penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of global revenue, whichever is higher. It is crucial for businesses to ensure compliance with GDPR regulations to avoid such severe penalties.

The key principles of GDPR are grounded in lawfulness, fairness, transparency, purpose limitation, data minimization, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity, confidentiality, and accountability. These principles form the foundation of the regulation and guide its implementation in data protection.

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