GDPR best practices: a comprehensive guide to compliance

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has raised the bar for data protection and privacy. GDPR seeks to protect individual rights and safeguard data. All companies doing business in the EU must be compliant. If not, severe penalties and reputational harm can result.

This article will provide a comprehensive list of GDPR best practices to make your data handling and security systems compliant. We will also explore how automation tools can radically simplify the compliance challenge.

Key takeaways

  • Understanding the GDPR and its requirements is a critical compliance challenge. GDPR applies to all businesses that deal with individuals who reside in the European Union.
  • Organizations should start by documenting data processing activities and creating an inventory of personal data. It is important to model where data resides and how it flows within the organization.
  • Assessing areas of non-compliance is essential. Companies should develop plans that address compliance gaps before beginning data collection.
  • Organizations must update privacy policies to align with GDPR. Privacy policies must clearly explain how data is collected and why. They should provide routes to make complaints and describe how the data controller protects confidential data.
  • Companies must implement technical and organizational measures to ensure data protection. Continuously monitoring compliance is also vital for maintaining GDPR standards.

Best practices for GDPR compliance

It helps to take a systematic approach when complying with GDPR. This approach should involve the following compliance best practices:

  • Documenting data processing
  • Assessing and addressing non-compliance
  • Updating privacy policies
  • Implementing technical and organizational measures
  • Monitoring compliance
  • Educating employees
  • Responding to data breaches
  • Understanding GDPR law

Let’s take a closer look at each best practice to understand how they fit into the GDPR compliance challenge.

Best practices for GDPR compliance

1. Documenting data processing activities

Recording data processing activities is a core GDPR requirement. This starts with a data inventory. Document what personal data your company holds. Record the origins of personal data and who is authorized to use it. Ensure that you document why you need personal data and how you use it.

Data processing areas to focus on include collection, storing data, and transferring it to other organizations or jurisdictions. If a data controller relies on external data processors, it must document data-sharing agreements between the parties.

2. Assessing and addressing non-compliance

Carrying out a full GDPR audit is essential if you want to maintain compliance. GDPR audits determine your compliance status. They compare existing data processing operations with GDPR law. They also ensure that processing activities meet the EU's data protection and privacy rules.

For example, data collection must have a lawful basis under Article 6 of GDPR. Article 7 lays out conditions of consent for collecting information from data subjects. Audits should assess every data operation against these articles and check for compliance gaps.

Combine audits with a Data Privacy Impact Assessment (DPIA). This privacy impact assessment looks at risks connected to handling personal data. A DPIA is required when organizations begin collecting information from data subjects.

DPIAs assess whether data processing will harm individuals. They define information collected by the data controller and measures in place to protect data. And they classify data according to sensitivity.

Compliance audits and DPIAs feed into your general GDPR compliance strategy. This plan is overseen by the Data Protection Officer. It defines measures to address compliance gaps.

3. Updating privacy policies and procedures

Privacy policies define how an organization safeguards personal data. They should explain the role of individuals tasked with handling data. They should also document technical controls in place to defend confidential information from leaks and external attacks.

Companies often need to update their privacy policies to ensure GDPR compliance. Make sure that policies explain the following:

  • The lawful basis for data collection
  • The type of data collected
  • How the organization protects user rights
  • How data is stored and how long personal data remains on company servers
  • Third parties that may receive personal data
  • How to complain to the Data Protection Officer
  • How to withdraw consent to share personal data

Check that privacy policies include these core elements. If not, create a plan to update policies and procedures to align them with GDPR.

4. Implementing technical and organizational measures

Article 32 of GDPR requires that organizations guarantee secure data processing. Companies must put in place "appropriate technical and organizational measures" that reflect risks to personal data.

Audit your security controls to make sure they protect user privacy. For instance, it is advisable to audit access controls to ensure they exclude unauthorized individuals. Encryption must protect sensitive data at all times. This applies to data in transit and in storage.

Data controllers may also be responsible for privacy breaches involving third parties. Audit all partners to make sure they have robust data protection policies.

5. Monitoring and maintaining compliance

Ensuring compliance with GDPR is a continuous process. Organizations cannot just implement GDPR policies and controls and assume they will remain appropriate. Regulations change, threats evolve, and organizations can lose control of their internal activities.

Organize rolling reviews of your compliance processes. Execute regular risk assessments of your data collection, processing, and security policies.

Stay informed about GDPR developments. Task your Data Protection Officer to update compliance information. The DPO should also schedule events for stakeholders to discuss the organization's compliance status. These events should raise any new developments and highlight potential risks.

6. Employee education and awareness

Many GDPR violations result from mistakes by individual employees. Staff must know their responsibilities when handling personal data. Regular training in relevant areas is the best way to build knowledge and compliant practices.

Focus on critical compliance issues. For example, companies must educate employees about how to respond to Data Subject Access Requests. Data subjects can ask for personal data held about them. They can request changes and the deletion of data. Employees must be ready and able to fulfill these requests.

Organizations must also train employees in what constitutes breaches of personal data privacy. Staff need to know what counts as personally identifiable information (PII). They must know how to obtain consent and the policies around sharing data for legitimate purposes.

7. Responding to data breaches

Under GDPR, organizations must report data privacy breaches if there is a risk of harm to data subjects. Article 33 of GDPR requires the data controller to notify regulators and individuals within 72 hours of detecting a breach. And notification failures regularly bring heavy fines.

Organizations need a clear policy when responding to breaches. This policy should cover:

Organizations need a clear policy when responding to breaches. This policy should cover:

  • The nature of the breach. The number of individuals affected by the breach. What data has the breach exposed, and in what form?
  • Containing the breach. Organizations need to recover data as quickly as possible. They must remotely wipe stolen devices and contain cyberattacks. Staff should also change their passwords.
  • Assessing the risk of harm. Is the breach small-scale and contained? Could many people suffer harm due to the breach?
  • Preventing further harm. Organizations may need to advise data subjects about measures to protect their personal data. For example, checking for known phishing emails.
  • Reporting the breach. Include information about the breach, the risk assessment process, and mitigation measures. Reinforce the need to respond within 72 hours.

Testing breach responses is also a best practice to achieve compliance. Ensure that data protection and security employees know the incident response policy. Verify that they are ready to put it into action. Clearly define who is responsible for reporting tasks. Document tests thoroughly.

8. Understand GDPR law

A final best practice is fundamental: organizations must know what European Union regulations require. And they need to assign resources to ensure compliance.

Small businesses may not be able to hire a specialist Data Protection Officer. However, having a dedicated individual assigned to deal with GDPR is advisable.

This individual should master the contents of EU regulations and manage compliance processes. They should spread best practices throughout the organization and report on compliance issues at the executive level.

Leveraging GDPR automation and expertise

Achieving GDPR compliance is a complex task. However, controllers and processors can simplify compliance by leveraging automation tools and external expertise.

Automation streamlines compliance processes and reduces the scope for human error. Let's quickly suggest a few examples of how this works:

  • Dealing with access requests. Automation tools can intercept and handle access requests by data subjects. The software can authenticate the individual, understand their request, and delete or change data as required.
  • Managing consent. Organizations can automate the delivery of consent and privacy policies to new customers. Automation detects the first time users provide personal data and ensures that GDPR-compliant data protection policies apply immediately.
  • Locating personal data. Data storage systems can be complex. Automated data management tools keep track of where companies store sensitive data. If you know where personal data resides, it is far easier to guarantee rights under GDPR.
  • Data-driven compliance audits. Automation tools generate reports that cover all data collection and storage systems. Data protection teams can check the security status of databases and take action to remedy compliance gaps.

Enlisting external expertise is another way to lessen the burden of GDPR compliance. Companies may lack internal knowledge about privacy and data protection standards. In that case, the advice of GDPR consultants and security experts is invaluable.

External experts can carry out a gap analysis to identify compliance violations. They will assess security controls, policies, and procedures. Their reports should be tailored to the needs of their clients, making it easy to align with EU requirements.


GDPR compliance requires planning and regular assessment. Organizations must raise awareness across their teams and partners. They must also put in place policies and controls required by European law.

This may sound like a challenge. However, companies can simplify the task by leveraging automation and outside experts. And compliance is much more achievable if you follow compliance and data protection best practices.

If you do business with European citizens, GDPR should be a core priority. Take action to make your operations compliant. Watertight compliance policies prevent regulatory penalties. However, they also build trust, which is critical when privacy is threatened.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and not legal advice. Use it at your own risk and consider consulting a licensed professional for legal matters. Content may not be up-to-date or applicable to your jurisdiction and is subject to change without notice.