March 29, 2024

What is a DPO (Data Protection Officer)?


A Data Protection Officer is an intermediary between the company and its users, employees, and supervisory authorities in all matters related to personal data protection. The role of the officer is to oversee the company’s GDPR compliance, advise on the protection of personal data, and communicate with regulatory authorities and personal data subjects.

💡 Worth checking: The Ultimate Privacy Compliance Guide

This article is brought to you by the Legal Nodes privacy team. Legal Nodes is a legal platform for tech companies operating globally. We help startups establish and maintain legal structures in 20+ countries, including assisting with their privacy compliance obligations across the globe.

Please note: none of this information should be considered as legal, tax, or investment advice. Whilst we’ve done our best to make sure this information is accurate at the time of publishing, laws and practices may change.

Who Needs a DPO?

Depending on the type of data that an organisation is handling, the GDPR sets out 3 cases where organisations need a DPO:

  1. A company that regularly and systematically monitors and processes the personal data of its customers, clients, or other individuals.
  2. A company collects and processes 'sensitive' personal data.
  3. The processing is conducted by a public authority or body (except for courts in the course of their judicial capacities).

👉 Get GDPR support for your business

Key DPO Responsibilities

Being an intermediary between a regulatory body and company, the Data Protection Officer has plenty of responsibilities. The role of the DPO is that of overseeing that the company performs as it should, which is why the term ‘DPO Oversight’ is used so frequently.

  1. The DPO must monitor the GDPR compliance at the organisation. This means that all the company’s GDPR efforts, from privacy statements to corporate data protection policies and technical security measures, operate under the supervision of the Data Protection Officer.
  2. The DPO’s oversight covers the work of all departments, officers, employees, and contractors, who are dealing with the collected personal data.
  3. Ensuring that a company is GDPR compliant is not a direct responsibility of the DPO. Instead, the executive management team, who make decisions on the personal data processes and who represent the organisation are responsible for GDPR compliance. The DPO acts as a watchdog, operating internally and prepared to identify any risks of non-compliance. The DPO analyses daily operations and advises on how to comply with the GDPR provisions.
  4. DPOs are not personally responsible in situations where a company violates a GDPR rule. They will be responsible only if they did not perform their professional obligations, and this resulted in the company being non-compliant.
  5. The DPO uses a ‘risk-based’ approach towards their work. This means that the officer prioritizes their attention in areas with the highest risks of non-compliance. This approach allows the officer to deliver the most impactful advice that reduces any damage done to individuals through non-compliance with GDPR rules and exposure of customer data.
  6. DPOs also act as a point of contact for government bodies, ensuring appropriate cooperation with external parties should inquiries or investigations arise.

📚 Learn more: what's the difference between GDPR Representatives and DPOs?

How to Optimise the Costs of DPO services

The high costs of GDPR implementation can be a deterrent for many businesses. A violation of GDPR rules can have costly consequences, so what should a business do? It has always frustrated us that GDPR compliance is often seen as a "luxury" option for those that could afford it. To optimise costs, a start-up can hire a DPO externally, with the help of ‘DPO-as-a-service’ providers. This route is much more affordable than hiring a full-time employee. The Virtual DPO can deliver all the necessary oversight requirements a business needs, meaning that the risk of GDPR non-compliance is greatly reduced.

📚 Read more: should you use a DPO or an AI Ethics officer to stay compliant with AI regulations?

What Are the Benefits of Using Legal Nodes’ Services Instead of Hiring a DPO In-house?

The Legal Nodes model allows you to start a DPO subscription that best meets the needs of your business and gives you the privacy-related support you need. You can also get matched with a different DPO should you wish to work with a different expert. This saves time not only on the privacy tasks but also on finding, hiring, and briefing a DPO every time you have a new privacy request. You get all the needed expertise of a Data Protection Officer, without all the hiring and managing costs.

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Vlad is Head of DPO Product @Legal Nodes and a certified (CIPP/E, CIPM, FIP) privacy specialist. He's currently doing a PhD study on the topic of AI and personal data protection.

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