Processor, controller or protection officer: what’s the difference?

When the GDPR comes into effect on 25 May, anyone dealing with personal data within an organisation will have to adhere to certain rules to ensure the information is adequately safeguarded. We recently shared some expert guidance with the Manchester Business Poston the different levels of responsibility that exist when it comes to data processing – if you missed the online article or magazine, you can read our advice in full below…

As most businesses will (hopefully!) be aware by now, the GDPR will undoubtedly require certain changes to be made to the way they capture, store and use personal data. It’s likely that within your organisation, there is more than one person who handles such sensitive information – whether through direct contact with clients and customers, fulfilling professional responsibilities, or sending out targeted marketing campaigns, for example.

Just as data processing varies hugely from sector to sector and business to business, the degree of responsibility each individual within an organisation has for managing such procedures is very different too. So, depending on their role within the company and the functions they regularly carry out, as long as their duties involve the use of personal data, they will qualify as either a Data ProcessorData Controller or – if specifically assigned – a Data Protection Officer (DPO).

Understanding the purpose of these key roles is essential, as the classifications will ultimately determine whose job it is to ensure legal requirements are met, along with who will be held accountable should a GDPR breach occur. But instead of being seen as a curse, these labels will actually provide some much-needed clarity surrounding who is responsible for each specific process, not to mention the overall compliance journey.

So, what does each role entail?

  • Data Processor – This is anyone who carries out personal data processing under the instruction of a Data Controller. As the foundation level of responsibility when it comes to handling sensitive information, the rules that underpin the role also apply to the Controller and Protection Officer.
  • Data Controller – This is the legal person, public authority, agency or other body who determines the purpose and means of personal data processing – either alone or jointly with others. Within an organisation, this person is responsible for overseeing all Processors who use such information.
  • Data Protection Officer (DPO) – This is a role specifically assigned by an organisation, with the appointed individual taking ultimate responsibility for GDPR compliance and the protection of personal data. Any company can assign a DPO either internally or externally, but not all are obliged to do so.

Do we need to assign a DPO?

Only companies that fit the criteria laid out by the supervisory authority (the Information Commissioner’s Office for the UK) will be required to appoint a DPO. Assigning an officer will be mandatory for the following organisations:

  • Public bodies
  • Those whose core activities require a high volume of regular, systematic personal data monitoring
  • Those that undertake large-scale processing of special categories of data.

What does a DPO actually do?

Quite simply, the Data Protection Officer’s key responsibilities are ensuring that the company’s processes comply with the GDPR and the personal data it holds is adequately safeguarded. To break it down further, this involves:

  • Informing and advising the organisation and its employees about the GDPR, security and compliance obligations and providing necessary training
  • Monitoring compliance with the data protection legislation
  • Managing internal data protection activities and conducting audits
  • Overseeing Data Privacy Impacts Assessments (DPIAs)
  • Acting as the first point of contact for supervisory authorities and data subjects (including employees and customers).

So, who should we appoint?

A DPO can’t be just anyone – they can be assigned internally or externally, but only if they fulfil certain requirements. That’s why, before you think about putting yourself or another team member forwards for the position, it’s essential to ensure the crucial criteria is met. The DPO must:

  • Have professional experience and knowledge of data protection law (proportionate to the type of processing carried out by the organisation and level of safeguarding required)
  • Be accessible to data subjects
  • Not have any conflicts of interest relating to the role
  • Adhere to confidentiality rules
  • Have access to the highest level of management within the organisation.

What are my responsibilities as a business owner?

If your organisation is required to appoint a DPO, it’s important to be aware of the obligations you have as their employer or contractor. You will be responsible for ensuring that:

  • They report to the highest level of management within your company
  • They operate independently and cannot be dismissed/disciplined for performing required tasks
  • They receive adequate resources to be able to meet their compliance obligations.

For further information about what the role of the Data Protection Officer entails, additional advice relating to the GDPR, or to enquire about our Virtual DPO service, just get in touch!

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