What are the Roles of a Data Protection Officer?


Contrary to popular belief, the roles data protection officers play are not exactly glamorous. However, Data Protection Officers are considered highly essential in today’s digital environment. This is especially true since digitalisation is considered the way to go for businesses and organisations that want to survive in today’s economic environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic which has devastated the global economy has highlighted the fact that those organisations that can quickly implement and adapt to digital transformation are the ones that can make it through adversity more easily. However, digitalisation can also make employee and customer data very vulnerable.

That said, businesses want to ensure that their data and any data that are in their care are protected accordingly. This is where a Data Protection Officer (DPO) can come in handy.

The Tasks of a Data Protection Officer

The acronym GAPSR (govern, assess, protect, sustain, and respond) summarises the tasks and roles a Data Protection Officer plays.

Primarily, the task of a Data Protection Officer is to assist an organisation in terms of governing how personal data is used, stored, disclosed, or collected within an organisation according to the requirements of the Personal Data Protection Act as well as other relevant data protection laws.

From an operational perspective, some of the responsibilities of a Data Protection Officer include:

  • Assessing the risks related to the processing of personal data. This also includes conducting a data protection impact assessment or DPIA.
  • Protecting the organisation by developing a data protection management programme (DPMP) against identified risks. This also includes the implementation of processes and policies for handling personal data.
  • Sustaining the above compliance efforts by communicating the personal data protection policies to the stakeholders including training. This also includes conducting audits and ensuring the ongoing monitoring or risks.
  • Responding and managing personal data protection related complaints and queries. This also includes liaising with data protection regulators both international or local on data protection matters.

With the ongoing lockdown and pandemic situation, online transactions have increased. New privacy-intrusive technologies are now also used to process personal data. Not only that, the whole world is also pressing the reset button when it comes to data protection requirements and laws. This has made having DPOs even more important.

One of the key benefits of having a Data Protection Officer is preventing a data breach in the organisation and exhibiting accountability to regulators. In addition, DPOs can aid in guiding the organisation to reach the level of data protection standards the organisation wants to attain (for instance, Data Protection Trustmark (DPTM) in Singapore).

They do this by assessing the risks that are involved by looking at the organisation’s data map and identifying the gaps.

Data Protection Officers will also recommend the relevant actions that the organisations should take based on the strict DPTM requirements. Having a Data Protection Officer onboard can also create wonders for the employee and customer experience. A DPO will work with various departments to set up the needed data protection policies.

In the process of operationalising the policies, the Data Protection Officer will work with the respective line managers to map out data maps of the organisation. They will also identify gaps and make recommendations to address any gaps and ensure the data that is in the possession of the organisation is protected and secure and is consistent with the policies stated.

This will give staff and the customers the assurance that the organisation is taking the needed precautions to ensure customer and employee data are kept safe. It can also help employees reassure customers that the organisation is reliable and is handling their data with utmost care.