Privacy compliance laws: Why the European Commission finally got it right
by Marc Vael - International vice president of ISACA - Monday, 29 October 2012.
Key changes in the reform include:
  • A single set of rules on data protection, valid across the EU. Unnecessary administrative requirements, such as notification requirements for companies, will be removed. This will save businesses around €2.3 billion a year.
  • Instead of the current obligation of all companies to notify all data protection activities to data protection supervisors—a requirement that has led to unnecessary paperwork and costs businesses €130 million per year—the regulation provides for increased responsibility and accountability for those processing personal data.
  • Companies and organisations must notify the national supervisory authority of serious data breaches as soon as possible (if feasible within 24 hours).
  • Organisations will only have to deal with a single national data protection authority in the EU country where they have their main establishment. Likewise, people can refer to the data protection authority in their country, even when their data is processed by a company based outside the EU. Wherever consent is required for data to be processed, it is clarified that it has to be given explicitly, rather than assumed.


  • People will have easier access to their own data and be able to transfer personal data from one service provider to another more easily (right to data portability). This will improve competition among services.
  • A ‘right to be forgotten’ will help people better manage data protection risks online: people will be able to delete their data if there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.
  • EU rules must apply if personal data is handled abroad by companies that are active in the EU market and offer their services to EU citizens.
  • Independent national data protection authorities will be strengthened so they can better enforce the EU rules at home. They will be empowered to fine companies that violate EU data protection rules. This can lead to penalties of up to €1 million or up to 2 percent of the global annual turnover of a company.
  • A new Directive will apply general data protection principles and rules for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The rules will apply to both domestic and cross-border transfers of data.
As companies such as British Airways announce that they are going to search for details of their regular customers on Google in order to provide a better service, it becomes increasingly obvious that data privacy is becoming more important than ever.

There are some factors which are critical to handling privacy in an effective and efficient manner. The most important one, and a factor which is often forgotten in many IT security implementations, is rock-solid commitment from senior management at board level.

If the senior management team members are not aware of or concerned about the privacy of the enterprise’s customers or employees, they will not make available resources in terms of staff and the necessary budgets to handle privacy in a professional manner.

At companies such as RSA Security and Sony, a lack of leadership on these issues from the top contributed to catastrophic laxity in IT security measures further down the line of junior management. It is very much the case that the tone has to be set from the top.

If IT security professionals are unsure if they can obtain senior management buy-in for a project, they seriously need to take stock of their own position, the position of IT security within the company and whether their senior management is taking IT security seriously.

The same importance must be given to the other stakeholders with roles and responsibilities around IT security. There has to be proper coordination of these individuals, but more importantly, they have to know that everyone has a role to play in data privacy.

This will include the Council, information technology generally, human resources, applications, business unit leaders, security (corporate, IT, physical and executive protection) and internal audit.

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