Privacy is progressing across the US and it stops for no one – so what does it take to keep up? Well, as an increasing number of privacy regulations following the example of GDPR and CPRA arise, it naturally follows that more companies than ever are going to be newly bound to rigorous sets of privacy standards. In the interest of meeting those standards it’s crucial to have some standardized form of data system assessment to weed out privacy risks, which is exactly the role Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) fill. These assessments are thus primed to become an invaluable asset for organizations newly assessing privacy risk at the behest of legislation, as well as existing privacy-conscious organizations aiming to maintain their privacy posture – so it’s a great time to take a look at what a PIA is, whether or not you need one, and what one entails.
What it is
Essentially, a PIA is a tool that enables organizations to identify, categorize, and ultimately remediate privacy risks present in their data systems in accordance with relevant legislative standards. The objectives of these assessments are a few: to verify the data system’s privacy conformity with organizational and legal requirements, to determine the privacy risks present in the data system, and to evaluate solutions to mitigate identified risks.
Who Needs it
Understanding what constitutes a PIA and its goals, a natural follow-up question would be who needs one. The necessity of one largely depends on the requirements of whatever regulations your business must abide by – different frameworks require these assessments at different stages of data handling. Odds are, however, that if you are bound to privacy legislation and handle customer Personally Identifiable Information (PII) you will at minimum be required to conduct a PIA when said data is newly processed or sold. Additionally, whenever significant changes/additions are made to the data system’s structure or its processes, then a PIA is typically highly-advised, if not required outright.
Even past the explicitly-required cases, most any organization that handles PII should heavily consider conducting these assessments at least every three years. Remember that these assessments aren’t just a box to tick for compliance’s sake – they exist to help protect consumer information from undue exposure and thus protect the company who would be held liable. At its core, a PIA is a tool to mitigate risk and should be considered as such.
How it Works
So – if you decide upon conducting a PIA, what exactly does it involve? Generally, the assessment takes the form of both an analysis process and a report document. The process itself will vary again depending on the regulatory requirements an organization faces, but will typically include steps like the following:
- An identification of the scope of the assessment along with the staff and stakeholders associated with in-scope systems
- A categorization of data should take place, categorizing them according to their sensitivity
- A technical mapping of where and how information flows throughout its system: from acquisition to storage to transfer to use to disposal
- An analysis and cataloging of privacy risks based on the data system’s state – take note to consider non-technical privacy impacts as well, an example being how easily communicable an otherwise safe process is to concerned consumers
- A determination of whether or not the risk of holding different types of PII is proportional and reasonable to its business purpose
- A consideration of mitigatory measures that could be taken to further protect the data system’s privacy as well as potential future data gathered
At the conclusion of the above steps a PIA report should be prepared documenting the results. The report should be easily interpreted and comprehensive of the steps and considerations taken – aid to this end can be found from online templates and/or privacy consultants. After the report’s completion, ensure that it’s published and sent where necessary by regulation. Ultimately, the PIA report is a living document. Ongoing reviews of the report should take place where there is any progress toward implementing the identified PIA recommendations or if any changes to the system are documented.
With the PIA’s goals, use-case, and process in mind, hopefully you’re left with a clearer picture of these assessments going forward. Like many system assessments, the process can seem daunting at first, but with some practice it will become a tremendously helpful tool in your GRC toolbox, helping you adapt and thrive in our privacy-conscious future.
Need some help conducting your Privacy Impact Assessment? Let CyberData Pros carry one out for you, from scoping to publication. Contact us now for a free consultation and to learn more about our services.