Everything You Need To Know About GDPR Audit

The UK GDPR is a crucial regulation that obliges organisations to protect personal data in their possession and also dictates how to handle the data appropriately. In addition, the GDPR obliges these organisations to check regularly whether or not they are complying with the various standards set under the law. They also have to look for any potential risks together with ways to mitigate them. This is where a data privacy audit, or simply GDPR audit comes in, and it’s essentially what we are going to look at in this guide. So, keep reading.

What is a GDPR audit?

 In simple terms, a GDPR audit is an examination or evaluation of an organisation’s compliance with GDPR regulations. The examination tries to find out whether, or not, an organisation is compliant, and if yes, to what extent. The auditor analyses the organisation’s compliance with the data protection legislation, and then compares the status quo with the legal requirements, where he or she then gives recommendations on how to improve compliance.

What are the main benefits of a GDPR audit?

It is only through a GDPR audit that an organisation would be able to evaluate its current level of data protection, which in turn helps in defining specific measures that would help it achieve the data protection conformity that is legally mandated. In simple terms, the audit detects any potential mistakes available and then recommends ways to rectify them, thereby ensuring that the organisation is always on the right track. This is, in fact, the main benefit of GDPR audit to organisations.

This way, the organisation is able to avoid hefty fines that are associated with non-compliance with the data protection regulation. Lastly, a GDPR audit does help an organisation gain a competitive edge over its competitors in the market.

Is GDPR audit a legal requirement?

The simple answer is, no! The UK GDPR law doesn’t require an organisation to carry out a data protection audit. However, the new law does require the organisation to be compliant, and the only way to know whether or not it is is through an audit. So, we can say that even though it isn’t a direct legal requirement, it sure does require it, but indirectly. After all, a GDPR audit will most certainly enable you to evaluate and improve your GDPR processes.

The GDPR audit checklist

Now that we have looked at what a GDPR audit is, plus how your business stands to benefit from an audit, let’s take a look at how to carry out the audit properly. We will start by going through the checklist with the areas that you need to focus more on during the audit. They are as follows:


 This regulation requires data processing to be done according to the following six principles:

  • Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency
  • Data minimisation
  • Purpose limitation
  • Accuracy
  • Storage limitation
  • Integrity and confidentiality

All these principles are underpinned by the principle of accountability, and in that regard, it is required that data controllers should maintain records that would demonstrate their compliance. So basically, a GDPR audit evaluates the extent to which data protection responsibility, accountability, performance measurement controls, policies, and procedures, as well as reporting mechanisms, are implemented and operating throughout the entire organisation.

Risk management

Any organisation that’s handling personal data is required by law to take a risk-based approach when implementing its technical and organisational measures, which could include data protection impacts assessments (DPIAs). These assessments simply identify any potential risks and the resulting impacts of data processing on its overall security. With that said, a GDPR audit should;

  • Examine whether privacy risk has been included as part of your corporate risk register
  • Examine the corporate arrangements put in place for privacy risk management
  • Evaluate the extent to which an organisation’s risk regime incorporates information-specific risks
  • Examine the risks addressed with regards to the rights and freedoms of natural persons

GDPR project

When it comes to compliance with GDPR requirements, an organisation requires support and cooperation across the entire organisation, from the very top to the junior staff members. Failure to do this, the compliance project will start running into difficulties. So, a GDPR audit is quite crucial as it examines the GDPR project to try and see how realistic and achievable it actually is.

Data protection officer (DPO)  

According to the GDPR law, the appointment of a DPO is a requirement, especially where:

  • Data processing is done by a public body
  • The company’s core activities do require systemic and regular monitoring of all the data subjects
  • There is large-scale processing of sensitive personal data, including data relating to criminal investigations and convictions

In many cases, it is actually recommended for an organisation to hire a DPO even when the law doesn’t require it, considering the value they do bring. However, you should note that regardless of whether the appointment of the DPO was mandatory or voluntary, the roles they play, plus their legal status remains unchanged, and so, this is exactly what a GDPR audit seeks to establish. Has the DPO been appointed? Especially when it’s mandatory! And is he or she capable of carrying out their roles as required by the law?

Roles and responsibilities  

As we’ve already mentioned, GDPR compliance requires everyone involved to play their role and responsibilities as set out, from the organisation’s management to the junior employees. So basically, a GDPR audit examines all these roles and responsibilities, the training and awareness measures, and also the effectiveness of the on-boarding as well as off-boarding process.

Scope of compliance

Taking into account all the processing of data an organisation carries out, either as a controller, a processor, or simply any data sharing activity, it is very crucial to have the scope of compliance clearly defined. Also, all the databases that contain personal data, processing activities, and also cross-border processing must be identified so as to determine the scope of compliance. This is actually where the GDPR audit comes in, as it examines all of these activities.

Process analysis

As per the GDPR law, controllers are required to maintain records of all their processing activities. With these records, a GDPR audit will be able to determine how the data processing principles have been incorporated in each of the processes involving personal data, of course, keeping in mind the lawful bases for processing. Also, the same happens for any processes with mandatory DPIA, where the assessment may establish data protection, either by default or by design.

Privacy Information Management System  (PIMS)

To demonstrate compliance, many organisations document everything and maintain these documents for reference. For instance, you will find documents such as data protection policies, consent forms, data breach notification procedures, DPIAs, and subject access request forms. Now, the number of documentation needed will depend on the size and complexity of your organisation. So, a PIMS will organise all these documents for GDPR audit, and it also has to include staff awareness training.

The rights of the data subjects

Under the GDPR law, there are specific rights that have been guaranteed, including the following:

  • The right of access
  • The right to be informed
  • The right to rectification
  • The right to erasure
  • The right to object
  • The right to restrict processing
  • The right to data portability
  • Rights with regards to automated decision making as well as profiling.

Basically, a GDPR audit will be able to establish whether these rights are being granted by the organisations.

How do you conduct a GDPR audit?

A proper GDPR audit process has four main stages, and they are as follows:

Stage one – analysing the current situation

To kick start the audit process, you first need to examine how all the departments in the organisation handle personal data. This is, of course, concentrating on the industry-specific core processes, and also not forgetting the secondary business processes in the human resource, sales, finance, as well as IT departments. The auditor will ideally work through an already-prepared questionnaire consisting of several questions. The questions focus on the origin, further use of data, storage, and finally, erasure of the specific data. The auditor should go into detail on every aspect, by asking as many questions as possible. The organisation must be able to answer all these questions easily.

Stage two – specification of the recommended actions

It is most likely that after going through all the departmental processes, the auditor will come across some shortcomings, and will obviously give recommendations to make the processes better, and therefore, improve compliance. The recommendations given depend on the specific process, so, they can’t be general.

Stage three – implementation of the recommendations

This is an important stage as it is where the organisation implements the recommendations. Now, of course, all the recommendations can’t be implemented at once – there are some that might take some time to implement. But what is important is for the data protection officer to ensure that all the recommendations have been implemented within the set timeframe. This task is not that easy, especially when it comes to large corporations with subsidiaries. This is where an automated project management system could come into place, as it will be able to track and monitor the implementation process, even in large companies together with all their subsidiaries.

Stage four – create a legally required data protection documentation

It is very important to document data processing in all processes and stages. These are the documents that will later be reviewed for GDPR compliance. Lastly, as one of the most important recommendations, it is always advisable for companies to automate these and all the other necessary processes to ensure effectiveness, and accuracy, which later translates to improved compliance.

What can an organisation do to improve compliance?

As we have stated above, GDPR compliance is of utmost importance and is, in fact, a must! Now, other than understanding your checklist, and knowing how to conduct the audit, there are a couple of other things an organisation can do to ensure better compliance, and therefore, a successful audit. There are as follows:

Establish whether indeed GDPR applies to you – here is the thing, before anything else, in a compliance audit, you have to check and understand the applicability of the GDPR law to your organisation. Remember that this law only applies to personal data, and not business plans or intellectual property. So, if your organisation does not deal with personal data from the citizens, including the staff members and customers, the law doesn’t apply to you. Also, the law applies to EU citizens only, wherever they are in the world. So, even if your organisation is based outside Europe, but you process data for EU citizens, the law definitely applies to you, and you must be compliant.

Train your staff members – this is by far one of the best things you can do for better GDPR compliance in your organisation. The thing is, every staff member in the organisation must understand the importance of personal data protection. As is the only way they will start to care and therefore handle it properly. Training your staff members will ensure that they handle their specific roles in GDPR compliance in a better manner so that even in the auditing process, they actually know what the auditor will be looking for, and would be able to provide. We also have to mention that data breaches will now be a thing of the past with proper training because as you know, 90% of the breaches are always a result of human error.

Review your personal data estate – for a smoother and more efficient process, you need to consider the categories of data that you process, where you got it, what its purpose is, how it flows throughout the organisation, and most importantly, who can access it. This is what is referred to as data mapping, and it is a very important part of a GDPR audit, as it makes the process easier.

Get help with your audit – considering everything that has to be done to ensure GDPR compliance, from individual rights to IT security, you will see that it is a lot of work. And an auditor will have so much work to do to check for compliance. Now, how about you consider creating a department to handle all matters to do with GDPR compliance? It may lead to added costs for your organisation, but given the hefty penalties a company pays as a result of GDPR non-compliance, it is completely worth it. So, if your organisation can afford it, have a department.

How much does a GDPR audit cost?

When it comes to the cost, it varies! For small and medium-sized companies, they will only be needed to pay a one-time cost of about 1000 – 3000 euros, which will be about 900 – 2700 in British pounds. This amount does include services such as advice to all the departments, departmental examinations, creation of recommendations, and also all legal documentation. Activities such as staff training and privacy policy creation may also be included in the flat rate.

Final thought

GDPR audit is very essential in ensuring GDPR compliance. It is through this audit that the organisation is able to identify any available shortcomings, and will then recommend how they can be corrected for the company to comply with all the statutory regulations. So, it is very crucial to ensure that the audit is carried out by qualified people, and should be done regularly, as compliance must never cease! All this will definitely have a positive impact on your business and reputation.

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