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Right of Access to Personal Data: What To Know

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The wealth of data available to organizations globally has brought tremendous improvements in their ability to target and cater to their customers' needs. Organizations can personalize each user's online journey using the insights gained from data. It ensures the ads they see are relevant to their likes and wants while ensuring any unnecessary content does not clutter their experience.

Data privacy laws are being enacted globally to give users more transparency into how their data is collected, stored, used, shared, and sold. However, this has come at a cost. Now, more than ever, privacy activists and governments worldwide have raised objections to the degree and volume of data organizations collect on users.

Most of these regulations highlight several "rights" users have over their data. These rights allow them to request access to, alter, copy, and delete their data. While various regulations may refer to these rights in different terms, their purpose is to empower users with a greater degree of control over their data once it has been collected.

The right of access to data has a special significance since it allows users to see just how much data a particular website or organization has collected on them. In a way, the path towards greater user control over their data once it has been collected starts with the right of access to data.

Naturally, it is crucial to understand what exactly this right means, who can exercise it, and most importantly, how organizations can effectively comply with their legal obligations related to it.

What Is the Right of Access To Personal Data

Using various techniques and mechanisms, websites can easily track users' online and offline activities with terrifying precision. For instance, most smartphones have a virtual assistant of some kind, such as Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant. In most cases, the factory settings on most phones have the microphones on for these assistants. A Vice report shed greater light on just how expansive and invasive some of those mechanisms can be.

The reason? Simple: Ads. Or better-targeted ads, to be precise.

Similarly, there are large swathes of data that are collected on individual users. This includes your geolocations, the contacts on your phone and other connected devices, your browsing history, and the battery percentage on your phone in one remarkable instance.

Fortunately, data regulations exist to ensure users aren't entirely powerless when it comes to transparency. While organizations may proceed with data collection by default depending on which regulations the organization is subject to, nearly all data regulations allow users to request access to see just how much data an organization has collected on the user.

It doesn't just stop there. Not only is it an organization's responsibility to ensure that users have access to the data collected on them, but they must also ensure that the mechanisms to exercise this right via the main website is simple and easy to comprehend for the average user.

The right of access to personal data is one of the central and perhaps most essential ways to provide users transparency over their data once it has been collected. As mentioned before, different regulations provide users with different rights related to their data, such as the right to request deletion, alteration, or duplicate copies of their data. Each of these steps depends in one way or another on the user's right of access to their data.

Of course, once a user has exercised their right of access to information, it is important to know what data an organization must provide them access to. Take, for instance, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), where personal information may include:

  • Email address
  • Name
  • Address
  • Social security number
  • IP address
  • Religious beliefs
  • Geolocation data
  • Political beliefs

Similarly, in California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), a new special category of personal information was introduced, Sensitive Personal Information, which may include:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Social security number
  • Passport number
  • Genetic information
  • Biometric information that can be used to identify a person
  • Racial origin

Additionally, the organization may be required to communicate how this data was collected, the purpose behind its collection, how long this data has been collected, what security measures were in place to protect this data, and whether this data was sold/shared with third parties. All of this would depend on the exact regulation the organization is subject to and under which the user is exercising their right of access.

How to Grant Users’ Access to Information

Lastly, the organization is expected to provide access to users to their data via machine-readable remote access to a secure system which would provide the user with direct access to his or her personal data once they’ve authenticated the user's identity. Most data regulations emphasize that this access to data should be provided in a machine-readable format that can be accessed on any major electronic communication device.

Who Is It Meant For

As a rule of thumb, the right of access to personal data is restricted to the user to whom the data belongs in the first place unless they allow a third party to exercise this right on their behalf.

Most data regulations, such as the GDPR, allow other parties to exercise this right on their behalf in extraordinary circumstances. Additionally, several data regulators, such as the CNIL in France and ICO in the UK, have detailed resources on how organizations should deal with right-to-access requests of this sort.

Right of Access for Minors

In some circumstances, a third party may exercise this right on behalf of someone else if a user is a minor, physically or mentally infirm, incapable of exercising this right themselves, or is deceased. Such users can have individuals or other parties nominated legally to exercise their rights in their stead.

Additionally, some data regulations allow government agencies to access a user's data if they have reasonable grounds to believe the user may threaten that particular country's national security or sovereignty.

Other instances may include the court requesting access to a particular user's personal data for legal matters, a solicitor acting on their client’s instructions, or a relative or friend whom the individual feels comfortable asking for help.

Exemptions

In some laws, such as the GDPR, covered organizations may refuse to fulfill a user’s right to request access to personal information. For instance, if the request is “manifestly unfounded or excessive”, the organization may choose not to proceed with the request. However, in such circumstances, it is imperative for organizations to prove that the request is “manifestly unfounded or excessive.”

Similarly, Article 15(4) of GDPR allows organizations to refuse to access request to access personal data if it believes that the information may adversely affect the rights or freedoms of others, such as if the data includes trade secrets or intellectual property rights.

Organization's Responsibility To Ensure This Right

It's been repeatedly stated that data processing and collection have been a tremendously lucrative prospect for most businesses. Even with data regulations limiting how, when, and why organizations can collect data on users, the volume of data being collected ensures they can continue with their business practices as usual.

However, they now have certain obligations towards all their users, especially regarding providing transparency related to the data collected.

Since various data regulations have varying degrees of requirements from organizations when it comes to guaranteeing users can exercise their right of access to personal data, it can be challenging for organizations to standardize their practices.

However, organizations can ensure they have the suitable mechanisms in place to:

  • Ensure that users can make requests related to their data via all major request forms. This includes having a dedicated toll-free number, an email address, as well as a webpage on the website exclusively for making such requests;
  • Verify all requests made to ensure only the individual themselves can exercise their rights related to their data;
  • Be prompt in responding to and processing all requests made. Most regulations provide a time limit for an organization to honor a data subject request. However, the best practice is to standardize the response time to be as quick as possible across the board;
  • Charge accordingly, if necessary. This is yet another area where various data regulations have different takes on whether an organization can charge for a data request or not. Adjust your fees depending on which regulation the user is subject to, how frequently the request has been made, or if fulfilling the request would require excessive resources.

These are concrete steps to building a robust compliance culture within an organization. However, they're also just the basics. Effective and thorough compliance with major data regulations globally will require organizations to study and understand each regulation separately.

There are often major and minute differences between these regulations that require varying actions from the organizations themselves. And since most major organizations will likely have users from across the world, they'll have to adhere to each regulation accordingly.

However, there are certain situations where certain limitations to the right of access do apply. Most prominently, Article 15(4) states that the right to obtain a copy of data shall not adversely affect the rights and freedoms of others. In such cases, an organization cannot deny the user’s request entirely. It will only result in leaving out information that may have negative effects on the rights and freedoms of others.

Similarly, limitations to the users’ right to access may also be made as a result of Member States’ national law as per Article 23 of the GDPR. Other data regulations globally may have similar provisions where owing to legal reasons or contractual obligations, complete and unfiltered access to data cannot be made possible.

How Can Securiti Help

Once it has been established just how important it is to ensure that both the user is adequately educated about their data rights, such as the right of access to personal data, and the organization's responsibility to do everything in its capacity to guarantee it, it becomes clear that the old fashioned manual way of approaching this problem just won't do.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is relatively simple. As mentioned repeatedly, there are so many data regulations out there that manually aiming for compliance would significantly strain resources. Each of these regulations has distinct requirements for the data controller and the user.

Secondly, even if an organization could somehow manually cater to each regulation, the process of keeping track of each request, often a legal requirement itself, could leave an organization back to square one.

Hence, automation is not only the most efficient way of guaranteeing users their right of access to personal data, but it is also the most effective one.

Securiti has made a name for itself as a pioneer and an industry leader in providing enterprise solutions related to data governance and compliance. Numerous well-known and reputable organizations rely on its slew of privacy-centric products to ensure compliance with data regulations globally.

With Securiti's Privacy Center, organizations can consolidate all their privacy-related information and resources in a single location, making it easier for users to understand and exercise their rights. This includes the website's privacy policy, terms & conditions, cookie policy, and most importantly, the data subject rights (DSR) fulfillment forms.

Using the latter feature, users can fill out the necessary information and exercise any of their data rights, such as the right of access to personal information as granted to them by the data privacy law they're subject to.

The Privacy Center provides users with complete automated robotic assistance to handle any data subject requests they may want to exercise efficiently and timely manner while completing an identity authentication simultaneously to prevent any identity fraud and PI theft.

Request a demo today and learn more about Securiti can help your organization comply with all major data subject rights request fulfillment requirements per the major data regulations globally.

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