What is a Data Protection Officer? DPO Role & Responsibilities

We'll help you understand what you need to know in order to become an effective Data Protection Officer.

Written By DMJ Team
data protection officer

The General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, came into force in May 2018 and has modernised the laws that protect the personal information of individuals.

GDPR was also created to alter how organisations handle the information of those that interact with them, with the potential for hefty fines and reputational damage for any businesses found in breach of the rules. GDPR is the world’s strongest set of data protection rules. It enhances how information pertaining to individuals can be accessed and places limitations on what organisations can do with personal data.

When GDPR came into force, countries within Europe were given the ability to make their own changes to suit their needs, which led to the creation of the Data Protection Act 2018 in the UK; this act supersedes the previous 1998 Data Protection Act. Since the creation of the Data Protection Act 2018, Data Protection Officers have been in high demand, and many professionals are looking to make the career change to becoming a DPO.

Data protection officers are independent experts who are responsible for monitoring organisations data protection compliance, advising on a company’s obligations, providing advice on data protection impact assessments, and acting as a point of contact for data subjects and the supervisory authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office or ICO. In our guide, we’ll help you understand what you need to know in order to become an effective Data Protection Officer.

What Is A Data Protection Officer?

A Data Protection Officer is a role that oversees a company’s processing of data subjects such as staff and customers to ensure compliance in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018. They have often undergone extensive training by taking a data regulation course, data policy course, or data protection law courses. A DPO acts as a bridge between an organisation, the data subjects and the regulatory authority, the ICO. The primary role of a DPO is to maintain compliance with regulations in order to protect the rights of data subjects; this is done by ensuring an enterprise implements a reliable data protection and risk assessment strategy.

Who Can Be A DPO?

Any professional with certification and training in data protection can become a DPO, and many people choose to do so from within the company they are currently employed by. However, when a professional becomes a DPO for a company, they should not have any duties beyond the scope of data protection. For example, if a person works within the marketing department, it would be a conflict of interest for them to be appointed as a DPO alongside their existing role. The first steps in becoming a data protection officer involve educating yourself about data law online and investing in data law courses.

What Is The Role Of A DPO?

The role of a Data Protection Officer is varied, and many of the day-to-day tasks must be carried out as part of the overall data protection strategy.

  • Data Breaches: A DPO is required to inform data subjects and the ICO of any breaches in data that occur in the organisation
  • Training: They are responsible for providing training where needed to the company and staff.
  • DPIAs: A DPO will provide advice concerning Data Protection Impact Assessments and monitor the organisations progress.
  • Obligations: Informing businesses of their data protection obligations and advising on how to implement them.
  • Policies And Procedure: The Data Protection Officer will be responsible for reviewing all the policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance.
  • Point Of Contact: The DPO will be the main point of contact for the ICO as well as for the data subjects.
  • Access Requests: They will be responsible for actioning any data subject access requests that they receive.

While the DPO will offer advice in regards to GDPR compliance, the responsibility lies with the company, which will be liable in the event of any non-compliance.

Avoiding A Conflict Of Interest

One of the critical attributes of the DPO is that they are required to act in an unbiased and independent manner, which means that any other task the DPO performs outside of their role cannot cause a conflict of interest. Many organisations appoint their DPOs from within and have the individual complete their Data Protection Officer responsibilities alongside their current position. However, this often causes a conflict of interest as the individual is then responsible for monitoring themselves.

The Liaison Between Business, Data Subjects, And Regulatory Bodies

As mentioned previously, the DPO is the point of contact for the data subjects and the Information Commissioner’s Office. A DPO needs to have the relevant training and knowledge in order to be prepared to answer questions, provide advice, and respond to any data subject access requests that they receive. Furthermore, a DPO is required to register with the ICO, which means that their contact details will be made available via privacy notices to data subjects.

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