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PIA and DPIA: What’s the Difference Between Both?

Published April 16, 2024

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1. Introduction

In the contemporary landscape of data protection laws, organizations face the critical task of navigating complex regulatory frameworks to safeguard individuals' personal information. Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) and Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) have emerged as indispensable tools in this pursuit, offering structured approaches to identify and mitigate privacy and data protection risks. As organizations grapple with an evolving array of privacy laws and guidelines, understanding these assessments has become imperative for ensuring regulatory compliance. Though sharing a common goal of enhancing privacy protections, PIAs and DPIAs differ in scope and applicability, necessitating an understanding of their respective roles. This blog delves into the distinctions and parallels between PIAs and DPIAs, shedding light on their pivotal role and compliance strategies, methodology, and significance.

2. Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)

A PIA is a process that helps organizations identify privacy risks associated with new projects or policies and develop strategies to mitigate those risks. Aligned with the 'privacy-by-design' philosophy, PIAs are usually conducted at the outset of a project cycle, such as during a new project launch, acquisition, or process/system overhaul. This early assessment allows organizations to incorporate privacy requirements proactively, ensuring that privacy considerations are woven into the project before it enters production. However, PIAs can also be helpful for each stage of the lifecycle of a project and still offer valuable insights even after a project has been completed or implemented.

When are PIAs Conducted

PIAs are conducted to evaluate privacy risks associated with projects involving the processing of personal data and help organizations comply with data privacy laws. These assessments are proficient in identifying various privacy risks, including but not limited to:

  • Unauthorized access to personal information, which can lead to identity theft and fraudulent use of identity;
  • Surveillance, encompassing monitoring or tracking of individuals' online activities, without their consent;
  • Data breaches, resulting from unauthorized access or disclosure of sensitive personal information;
  • Financial fraud, involving the misuse of financial information like credit card numbers or bank account details;

By identifying these risks early in the project lifecycle, PIAs facilitate the implementation of appropriate safeguards to mitigate them effectively. Remediation actions may include updating privacy notices, respecting consent (opt-in, opt-out) preferences, maintaining robust security protocols,  establishing incident response plans to swiftly address data breaches, etc.

How to Conduct PIAs

Organizations should take the following steps for conducting a PIA to ensure thorough evaluation and protection of personal data:

  • Begin by thoroughly defining the context in which personal data is processed. This involves identifying the scope of the project, the types of personal data involved, and the intended purposes of processing.
  • Implement controls to ensure compliance with fundamental privacy principles, such as data minimization, purpose limitation, accuracy, and security. This may include implementing privacy-enhancing technologies, establishing data protection policies and procedures, and appointing a data protection officer where necessary.
  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the privacy risks associated with the processing activities.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the controls in place to mitigate privacy risks and ensure compliance with applicable data protection laws and regulations.

3. Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA)

A DPIA is a process of documentation that helps organizations evaluate any potential data protection risks posed by the processing of personal data of individuals and determine the sufficiency of the control for mitigating those risks. DPIAs should include the nature, scope, context, and purpose of the processing and identify how the organization plans to mitigate those data protection risks. DPIAs are mandatory under the GDPR for certain types of processing such as undertaking any new high-risk processing projects or implementing new technologies, etc. DPIAs are more tightly integrated into the regulatory framework of the GDPR, whereas PIAs are often used as a proactive measure to demonstrate compliance with privacy principles and standards.

When are DPIAs Conducted

DPIAs serve to evaluate the risks associated with projects involving the processing of personal data. Where processing operations are likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, organizations should be responsible for carrying out a DPIA to evaluate, in particular, the origin, nature, particularity, and severity of that risk. Article 35 of the GDPR mandates that organizations must conduct a DPIA in the following type of processing:

  • If an organization is using new technologies;
  • If an organization is processing personal data related to “racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade union membership, and the processing of genetic data, biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person, data concerning health or data concerning a natural person’s sex life or sexual orientation;
  • If an organization is tracking people’s location or behavior;
  • If an organization is systematically monitoring a publicly accessible place on a large scale;
  • If the data processing is used to make automated decisions about people that could have legal (or similarly significant) effects;
  • If an organization is processing children’s data.

Companies leveraging AI systems for automated decision-making are potentially required to conduct DPIAs. These assessments proficiently identify various data protection risks, including but not limited to:

  • Unauthorized access or disclosure of sensitive data due to security vulnerabilities or breaches in technical safeguards.
  • Cyberattacks, such as phishing, targeting systems or networks to gain unauthorized access to data.
  • Inadequate encryption, leading to the failure to encrypt data both in transit and at rest.
  • Weak authentication, leading to insecure authentication methods or weak password policies.
  • Third-party risks, arising from the use of third-party vendors or service providers who may have access to sensitive data.
  • Data retention risks, stemming from storing data for longer than necessary or failing to properly dispose of obsolete data.

By identifying these risks, DPIAs facilitate the implementation of appropriate technical and procedural safeguards to mitigate them effectively.

How to conduct a DPIA

GDPR only provides a general description of how DPIAs are to be conducted. Article 35 of the GDPR provides four elements that guide organizations in conducting a DPIA:

  • Organizations should start by providing a thorough description of the data processing operations and their intended purposes. This serves as the foundation for understanding how personal data is being handled within an organization.
  • Organizations should then evaluate the necessity and proportionality of the processing activities. Consider whether the processing is essential for achieving the intended purposes and whether it is proportionate to the goals at hand.
  • Organizations should then conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks associated with the processing activities. Identify potential risks to individuals' privacy rights and freedoms, taking into account factors such as the nature, scope, context, and purposes of the processing. This encompasses:
    • Evaluating the type of data being handled.
    • Assessing data processing activities, considering factors like the volume of data collected.
    • Consider the circumstances surrounding data processing, such as whether it involves minors.
    • Define the purposes for which data is processed, ensuring that these purposes are legitimate and align with individuals' expectations and legal requirements.
  • Finally, organizations should outline the measures needed to address the identified risks effectively.
  • Where a DPIA indicates that processing operations involve a high risk that the organization cannot mitigate by appropriate measures in terms of available technology and costs of implementation, a consultation of the supervisory authority should take place prior to the processing.

4. Concluding remarks

Organizations often use DPIA and PIA interchangeably, as both terms sound similar. However, it's important to note that these assessments serve different purposes and should be treated as separate processes. Both DPIA and PIA are crucial in implementing data privacy and protection within an organization. If you want to understand these assessments better and access templates for them, sign up for the Securiti Assessment Automation demo. Securiti's templates provide detailed question-based guidance, conditional risk triggers along with risk descriptions and recommendations, and readiness scores.

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