Privacy Advisor

Top Six Inadequacies Found During Privacy Audits

December 10, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

Those of you in the U.S. or UK might be familiar with this phrase: “Survey says!” Alternately Family Feud or Family Fortunes, depending on your geography, the famous quiz show surveyed 100 people on a variety of questions and then challenged families to identify the top responses.

Here at the IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress in Brussels, James Mullock, CIPP/E, broke his “Audit Programmes” session into two halves and challenged them to identify the top six failure points his firm, Osborne Clarke, identified in its last 20 privacy audits.

Survey says!

The first team guessed “Excessive access to data,” but unfortunately got the buzzer. Sorry, that didn’t make the top six.

The second team then won control of the board by guessing, “Data transfer.” Indeed, six of the 20 companies audited were transferring data without the appropriate permissions in place. They scored more points by guessing “lack of training.” Twelve of the companies audited did not have comprehensive privacy training programs in place.

James Mullock, CIPP/E, leads a game of Family Fortunes at the IAPP's Data Protection Congress.

“You need to look at where your training is housed,” said Mullock. “What will employees be most receptive to? Is it one-to-one, is it PC-based or is it just data PR? Training for the sake of public relations?”

Team two picked up a strike after that by guessing that there were inadequate data breach plans in place, then another by guessing the data destruction plans were inappropriate.

However, they rallied by guessing vendor contracts are often not in place. Nine firms audited either had no vendor contracts at all or had contracts that didn’t properly address all the issues necessary to satisfy the regulators in the countries in which they did business.

They picked up a fourth correct answer by guessing that notice and consent are often not properly posted and acquired. Five of the audited companies came up short there, despite what would seem to be a universal understanding that customers need to be told what is being done with their data.

“Your privacy notice is your CV to the outside world,” said Ulrich Baumgartner, another Osborne Clark partner. “If the policy is not adequate, that’s the first sign that something might be wrong, and that’s something that regulators will notice most.”

Team 2 huddles up to decide on their guesses for the most common privacy audit failures, at the IAPP's Data Protection Congress 2013.

Funnily enough, neither team could come up with the most common failure Osborne Clark found in its audits: Sixteen of 20 firms failed with their basic privacy policy, governing internal company operations. Whether it was different policies between different divisions within the firm or lack of updates to the policy for practices including BYOD and telecommuting, very few internal policies were up to date, said Mullock.

“Another big problem,” he said, “were policies that hadn’t been actually consented to by staff. When it came to the crunch, the company couldn’t prove that it had done the training and gotten the consent that it said it had done.”

Finally, neither team could grab the last of the top six, either, which was lack of proper registration with the DPAs in the countries in which they were doing business. Half of the firms audited failed this.

“It’s amazing the number of organizations that haven’t registered or notified everywhere they should do,” said Mullock. “It’s not surprising that firms should fail with data transfer. That’s the area that’s most difficult, but even companies that seem to have it right don’t have it right because they haven’t registered everywhere they need to.”

So, to summarize, the top failures of privacy audits conducted by Osborne Clarke are:

  • Basic internal privacy policy failures—80 percent
  • Lack of training—60 percent
  • Improper registration—50 percent
  • Inadequate vendor contracts—45 percent
  • Data transfer failure—30 percent
  • Inadequate notice and consent—25 percent

Look for more coverage this week from the IAPP Europe Data Protection Congress, being held in Brussels, Belgium.

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