EU Data Privacy Officer Rule Triggers Search for Talent

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By Stephen Gardner

Nov. 15 — Smaller European Union companies may not recognize their obligation under the new EU privacy regime to appoint data protection officers and may find that finding qualified officers is becoming difficult, privacy analysts told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 15

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirement for companies that process personal information to appoint data protection officers may exacerbate the divide between well-resourced companies that are aware of their obligations and smaller companies that might be late in realizing the implications of the new rules, they said.

But even larger companies making progress to comply by the May 2018 GDPR effective date may need to be wary of working with smaller companies that handle sensitive data. Smaller companies may be at increasingly greater risk of data breaches if they don’t have a data protection officer (DPO) in place, Bilal Ghafoor, secretary of the U.K. National Association of Data Protection and Freedom of Information Officers, said.

Most large companies have a person with a DPO title or job responsibility, but smaller companies risk “being left further and further behind,” even though they might be working in data-driven sectors, Ghafoor said.

The privacy compliance “divide is getting bigger” between larger and smaller companies, he said.

High Demand, Limited Supply

The GDPR requires appointment of a data protection officer by data processors that regularly and systematically monitor data subjects–for example, via use of cookies—or that process sensitive data. The role doesn’t necessarily require a dedicated staff member and can be outsourced.

The International Association of Privacy Professionals Nov. 9 published figures that estimate a global requirement for 75,000 data protection officer posts to be filled in the run up to the full application of the GDPR.

Ghafoor said such estimates should be treated with caution but there was no doubt that larger data processors “are all in the process of trying to recruit.”

Gonca Dhont, managing director of DPO Network Europe, a specialist recruitment consulting company, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 15 that the data protection officer “profession is on the rise, but it is also in the making. The demand is there but the supply is not yet there.”

“Experienced people are in high demand,” by “mostly multinationals” in the finance, pharmaceuticals, information technology and retail sectors, Dhont said.

These companies are “topping up their existing teams,” while smaller data processors are “aware that something is coming up,” but are likely to look for external data protection compliance assurance, rather than to recruit in-house data protection officers, she said.

Privacy Divide

Jörg Hladjk, of counsel with Jones Day in Brussels, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 15 that “in the end, this is all about having a corporate governance structure,” and “global companies may already have a DPO team in the headquarters supported by data protection coordinators worldwide.”

Companies that operate in countries such as Germany and Singapore, which already have requirements around data protection officers, would have an advantage, but “companies without any existing experience on the DPO side may struggle finding the right person and integrating that person into the corporate structure,” Hladjk said.

The roles and responsibilities of data protection officers “certainly need further interpretation and additional guidance,” Hladjk said. The Article 29 Working Party of EU data protection commissioners has said it will publish guidance on data protection officers by the end of 2016.

Hladjk added “I think we can say there is a divide” between large well-informed and well-resourced data processors, and smaller companies, But didn't agree that this means “a greater risk of data breaches among smaller-scale data processors.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Gardner in Brussels at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at daplin@bna.com

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