Data Mapping: Frequently Asked Questions
Most people find data privacy compliance to be complicated enough....Read Now
February 12, 2024
With so much of our society’s data flowing through digital platforms, keeping it safe is increasingly crucial. If your business has access to any personal information (PI)—a person's full name, phone number, email address, etc.—then you run the risk of mishandling that data.
Many businesses and government agencies rely on privacy impact assessments (PIAs) to identify and address privacy gaps in their operations. But these assessments are more than a compliance checkbox; they are proactive measures against evolving challenges in data privacy.
Here’s how to conduct one.
In short, a PIA is one of many types of privacy assessments that analyzes how you collect, use, share, and maintain PI. This analysis ensures compliance with industry regulations, identifies privacy risks of new processing activities (e.g., collecting new categories of personal data, launching new applications, or starting any initiative that changes how your organization collects and processes data), and helps uncover ways to reduce privacy risks.
Think of it as a guide for your organization to become compliant with data privacy laws and properly protect all the personal information you handle.
Some common reasons to conduct a PIA include:
While data breaches are a concern, the primary goal of a PIA is to minimize risk to individuals’ personal data and their right to privacy. Privacy violations can occur without a data breach, and can be intentional acts by businesses—like sharing or selling sensitive data without considering where it might wind up.
PIAs and Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIA) often get used interchangeably in conversations around data security and privacy, but they serve different purposes. While a PIA helps evaluate and manage potential privacy risks when handling PI, it is typically an internal process for your organization. Some organizations choose to publish the results of their PIAs in order to garner trust, and some public organizations are required to do so for compliance with U.S. federal regulation; however, most organizations use PIAs as an internal guide.
On the other hand, the reach of DPIAs extends to the impacts of data protection outside of your business, specifically compliance with regulations like GDPR (more on that below). While it shares the same goal of protecting PI, it’s ultimately about ensuring your internal practices align with the specific legal requirements outlined in major data legislation.
Here are three key ways that PIAs differ from DPIAs:
A privacy impact assessment reduces the risks associated with handling any form of PI. Its main benefits are to ensure compliance with privacy laws, increase trust in your organization, and reduce the likelihood of future data breaches.
Whether it’s GDPR in Europe, HIPAA in healthcare, or other regional or industry regulations, PIAs ensure you address all the components required for compliance—saving you from legal headaches.
PIAs aim to simplify the process, ensuring your organization stays on the right side of the law. While an internal PIA doesn't specifically meet legal requirements (like a DPIA), it helps reduce your risk by proactively aligning your practices with privacy regulations.
Trust is a vital currency for modern businesses. Privacy-conscious consumers want assurance that their information is handled with care, and PIAs are your best bet for building and maintaining a solid reputation.
By routinely completing a PIA, you're not just talking the talk of privacy compliance; you're walking the walk and embedding respect for consumer rights into your products, services, and internal processes. As such, a proven commitment to data privacy will boost your reputation as a company that emphasizes data privacy above all else.
Data breaches can be a nightmare for your organization and customers alike. While PIAs are about reducing privacy risk and do reduce security risk as a result, it's not a direct A-to-B outcome.
Instead, PIAs play an active role in enhancing your security posture by:
Conducting a PIA means your organization is taking a proactive stance against any security gaps or data vulnerabilities. This protects you from the financial and reputational fallout of a data breach and instills customer confidence in how you handle their PI.
As legislation evolves to keep up with data privacy needs, compliance remains a legal imperative. Organizations can’t afford to take shortcuts when it comes to staying aligned with regulatory requirements. Luckily, PIAs are designed to help you comply with several government regulations.
Congress enacted the E-Government Act of 2002 to improve the management and promotion of electronic government services and processes. Title II, Section 208 outlines requirements for agencies to incorporate PIAs into the development cycle of informational systems.
By mandating the use of PIAs, the E-Government Act ensures every public-sector entity is assessing the privacy implications of handling PI. Routine assessments are a valuable tool for federal agencies to ensure compliance with privacy requirements and to manage privacy risks.
In the healthcare industry, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) guards patient privacy. The law mandates the completion of PIAs to evaluate and address potential risks to the confidentiality and integrity of protected health information.
By integrating PIAs into healthcare practices, organizations can ensure compliance with HIPAA's stringent privacy provisions:
The CPRA amended the existing California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in January 2023, introducing the need to conduct risk assessments before collecting or using consumer PI. However, the law only applies to businesses that meet at least one of the following:
Most businesses with a presence in California will meet one of these thresholds, especially since website cookies can easily capture thousands of individuals’ PI in a few days.
The law doesn’t strictly define what constitutes a “significant risk” to consumer privacy. But at a minimum, a risk assessment should include:
Other U.S. State Privacy Laws
Over a dozen states have at least discussed, if not passed, their own comprehensive data privacy laws. Most mirror the requirements established in the CPRA, but each has their own particularities. Covering each state’s PIA requirements is outside of the scope of this blog, but if you want to review state law characteristics at a glance (including their PIA requirements), check out our U.S. Data Privacy Law Guide.
On the international stage, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) casts a wide net to protect the privacy rights of individuals within the EU. GDPR compliance reaches beyond the geographical borders of EU nations, however.
Organizations handling data for EU citizens must perform DPIAs, but it’s good practice to also conduct PIAs as a complementary part of data protection impact assessments. GDPR's emphasis on privacy by design and default demands comprehensive privacy tactics. So PIAs remain an integral step in keeping your organization compliant even though DPIAs are more detailed and the only requirement.
Conducting your own PIA requires a systematic and thorough approach. The depth and content of the PIA should be appropriate for the nature of the information being collected, as well as the size and complexity of your data management system.
Whether you’re launching a new project or onboarding a new vendor, here’s a step-by-step guide for your organization’s PIAs:
Conducting a PIA is a collaborative effort that often involves input from various stakeholders, including privacy officers, legal experts, IT professionals, and project managers.
Whether you’re planning on conducting your first or fiftieth PIA, you don’t have to navigate the complexities on your own. Osano stands as a reliable partner in data privacy, offering valuable support to organizations aiming to protect PI and ensure compliance with ease by:
With regular privacy assessments powered by Osano, you’ll reduce your company’s risk, comply with the law, and, most importantly, protect your customers. Our templated assessments, based on industry best practices, and data mapping capabilities make it easy to carry out the PIA workflow.
Need guidance on how to conduct a privacy assessment? Our DPIA checklist walks you through the process step by step.Download Now
Matt Davis is a writer at Osano, where he researches and writes about the latest in technology, legislation, and business to spread awareness about the most pressing issues in privacy today. When he’s not writing about data privacy, Matt spends his time exploring Vermont with his dog, Harper; playing piano; and writing short fiction.