To understand the GDPR checklist, its also useful to know some of the terminology and the basic structure of the law. You can find this information on our “What is the GDPR?” page. Please keep in mind that nothing on this page constitutes legal advice. We recommend you speak with an attorney specialized in GDPR compliance who can apply the law to your specific circumstances.
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The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) contains dozens of requirements for organizations that handle the personal data of European Union citizens and residents. The penalties for failing to meet these obligations are severe by design, reaching into the millions of euros depending on the gravity of the offense. The GDPR's extra-territorial scope means that organizations anywhere — not just those in the EU — can be held accountable.
GDPR compliance may seem overwhelming, but fortunately it relatively simple. We created this GDPR checklist to help break down the massive law into manageable steps. The actions here apply for those defined in the law as "data controllers." You are a data controller if you make decisions about other people's personal data for your organization. You might be a small business owner collecting email addresses for your newsletter.
Lawful basis and transparency
Organizations that have at least 250 employees or conduct higher-risk data processing are required to keep an up-to-date and detailed list of their processing activities and be prepared to show that list to regulators upon request. Organizations with fewer than 250 employees should also conduct an assessment because it will make complying with the GDPR's other requirements easier. In your list, you should include: the purposes of the processing, what kind of data you process, who has access to it in your organization, any third parties (and where they are located) that have access, what you're doing to protect the data (e.g. encryption), and when you plan to erase it if possible).
Processing of data is illegal under the GDPR unless you can justify it according to one of six conditions listed in Article 6. There are other provisions related to children and special categories of personal data in Articles 7-11. Review these provisions, choose a lawful basis for processing, and document your rationale. Note that if you choose "consent" as your lawful basis, there are extra obligations, including giving data subjects the ongoing opportunity to revoke consent. If "legitimate interests" is your lawful basis, you must be able to demonstrate you have conducted a privacy impact assessment.
You must follow the principles of "data protection by design and by default," including implementing "appropriate technical and organizational measures" to protect data. In other words, data protection is something you now have to consider whenever you do anything with other people's personal data. You also need to make sure any processing of personal data adheres to the data protection principles outlined in Article 5. Technical measures include encryption, and organizational measures are things like limiting the amount of personal data you collect or deleting data you no longer need. The point is that it needs to be something you and your employees are always aware of.
Most of the productivity tools used by businesses are now available with end-to-end encryption built in, including email, messaging, notes, and cloud storage. The GDPR requires organizations to use encryption or pseudeonymization whenever feasible.
Even if your technical security is strong, operational security is often the weakest link. Create a security policy that ensures your team members are knowledgeable about data security. It should include guidance about email security, passwords, two-factor authentication, device encryption, and VPNs. Employees who have access to personal data and non-technical employees should receive extra training in the requirements of the GDPR.
A data protection impact assessment (aka privacy impact assessment) is a way to help you understand how your product or service could jeopardize your customers' data, as well as how to minimize those risks. The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has a data protection impact assessment checklist on its website. The GDPR requires organizations to carry out this kind of analysis whenever you plan to use people's data in such a way that it's "likely to result in a high risk to [their] rights and freedoms." The ICO recommends just doing it anytime you're about to process personal data.
If there's a data breach and personal data is exposed, you are required to notify the supervisory authority in your jurisdiction within 72 hours. A list of many of the EU member states supervisory authorities can be found here. The GDPR does not specify whom you should notify if you are not an EU-based organization. For those in English-speaking non-EU countries, you may find it easiest to notify the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland. You are also required to quickly communicate data breaches to your data subjects unless the breach is unlikely to put them at risk (for instance, if the stolen data is encrypted).
Accountability and governance
Another part of "data protection by design and by default" is making sure someone in your organization is accountable for GDPR compliance. This person should be empowered to evaluate data protection policies and the implementation of those policies.
This includes any third-party services that handle the personal data of your data subjects, including analytics software, email services, cloud servers, etc. The vast majority of services have a standard data processing agreement available on their websites for you to review. They spell out the rights and obligations of each party for GDPR compliance. You should only use third parties that are reliable and can make sufficient data protection guarantees.
If you process data relating to people in one particular member state, you need to appoint a representative in that country who can communicate on your behalf with data protection authorities. The GDPR and its official supporting documents do not give guidance for situations where processing affects EU individuals across multiple member states. Until this requirement is interpreted, it may be prudent to designate a representative in a member state that uses your language. Some organizations, like public bodies, are not required to appoint a representative in the EU.
There are three circumstances in which organizations are required to have a Data Protection Officer (DPO), but it's not a bad idea to have one even if the rule doesn't apply to you. The DPO should be an expert on data protection whose job is to monitor GDPR compliance, assess data protection risks, advise on data protection impact assessments, and cooperate with regulators.
People have the right to see what personal data you have about them and how you're using it. They also have a right to know how long you plan to store their information and the reason for keeping it that length of time. You have to send them the first copy of this information for free but can charge a reasonable fee for subsequent copies. Make sure you can verify the identity of the person requesting the data. You should be able to comply with such requests within a month.
Do your best to keep data up to date by putting a data quality process in place, and make it easy for your customers to view (Article 15) and update their personal information for accuracy and completeness. Make sure you can verify the identity of the person requesting the data. You should be able to comply with requests under Article 16 within a month.
People generally have the right to ask you to delete all the personal data you have about them, and you have to honor their request within about a month. There are a five grounds on which you can deny the request, such as the exercise of freedom of speech or compliance with a legal obligation. You must also try to verify the identity of the person making the request.
Your data subjects can request to restrict or stop processing of their data if certain grounds apply, mainly if there's some dispute about the lawfulness of the processing or the accuracy of the data. You are required to honor their request within about a month. While processing is restricted, you're still allowed to keep storing their data. You must notify the data subject before you begin processing their data again.
This means that you should be able to send their personal data in a commonly readable format (e.g. a spreadsheet) either to them or to a third party they designate. This may seem unfair from a business standpoint in that you may have to turn over your customers' data to a competitor. But from privacy standpoint, the idea is that people own their data, not you.
If you're processing their data for the purposes of direct marketing, you have to stop processing it immediately for that purpose. Otherwise, you may be able to challenge their objection if you can demonstrate "compelling legitimate grounds."
Some types of organizations use automated processes to help them make decisions about people that have legal or "similarly significant" effects. If you think that applies to you, you'll need to set up a procedure to ensure you are protecting the rights, freedoms, and legitimate interests. You need to make it easy for people to request human intervention, to weigh in on decisions, and to challenge decisions you've already made.
Congratulations! If you've dutifully worked to the bottom of the GDPR checklist then you've significantly limited your exposure to regulatory penalties.
Finally, we want to remind you once more that this checklist is not in any way legal advice. There are dozens of provisions in the GDPR that apply only in rare instances, which would be counterproductive to cover here. You should check with a lawyer to make sure your or-ganization fully complies with the GDPR.