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By Deidre Rodriguez, CIPP/US

Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) are required for many projects in certain federal and state governmental entities. However, PIAs are key to Privacy by Design, or what some refer to as privacy by default. Organizations whether they are large, small, simple or complex need to implement processes to identify projects that impact privacy and build in key controls during the earliest stages of those initiatives. The approach to PIAs may vary and may need to be custom or specific to the organization. There are foundational concepts that need to be addressed when developing your PIA-related processes. The IAPP has a great toolkit with numerous PIA-related materials that you may find helpful. PIAs can be used to address technological as well as business privacy impacts.

When Do You Need To Do a PIA

There are many experts in the privacy arena that debate about “when” a PIA should take place. Three examples of common activities in organizations that have a potential privacy impact and that would prompt the initiation of the PIA process are:

  • A change in the way data is being used, accessed or disclosed, especially if that change is less restrictive. This applies not only to systems but also to new policies or changes to policies that may impact data storage, data flows or specific populations of data.
  • Processes where data sharing will take place on a broad scale, for example, sharing with multiple entities.
  • A new system or application where data will be stored, or accessed.

What To Ask

As with many analytical processes, a good place to start is with basic questions. You may want to look at templates that others—such as governmental agencies—use for their PIAs. Or you may decide to develop a model specific for your organizational needs. Examples of key questions to ask during your PIA process are:

  • Who—Who will be doing the project? Who will be impacted (accessing, receiving, storing) by data flow in this project? Who are the key stakeholders?
  • What—What data is involved? What is being collected, accessed or disclosed? What opt-in or opt-out processes are there?
  • Where—Where will data be stored and accessed, or where will it flow?
  • When—When will data be touched, viewed, moved, disclosed in the flow? When is the project going to be implemented?
  • Why—Why is the project necessary; what is the problem or issue that is being addressed?
  • How—How will the data flow? How is it protected? How will the end-to-end process work?
  • Are there existing controls?
  • Are there future plans related to this project that will impact requirements/controls in the future?

There are several different ways that companies can collect the answers to the questions above. A review of a simple questionnaire may work for some organizations—for larger or more complex organizations they may want to review the project charter, the business justification, the answers to the questions above, the related work/data flows and detailed documentation of procedures.

Looking for more information on how to develop or improve upon your company’s privacy program? Check out Close-Up: How To Build a Privacy Program in the IAPP Resource Center.

Perform the Assessment and Document

Once you have asked the appropriate questions, it is now time to perform the assessment, define the requirements—business and technical—and identify controls. As always, document, document, document. Write a final report of exactly what was done during the analysis process, who was involved, decision points and who made those decisions, detailed requirements, guidance given, approvers and any governance or leadership approvals received. Retain this information as it will help you in the future if there are changes to the existing processes, risks identified or future enhancements. Work with your internal audit area to help the business or technical team build ongoing testing and monitoring processes or controls to ensure that they are sufficient over time.

PIAs are not a tool only to be used by governmental agencies. All organizations need to explore implementing a PIA process to get in front of privacy risk and to build appropriate controls to achieve Privacy by Design or by default.

Did you miss the first parts in this series? Click here to find posts one, two and three

Deidre Rodriguez, CIPP/US, has actively been working in privacy compliance for 10 years, including policy development, incident response, advisory support and strategic planning. Currently, Deidre is the director of the Corporate Privacy Office and Regulatory Oversight for WellPoint, Inc.


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