Despite the GDPR being in effect for more than a year, to date, there has been no certification standard for it. Coalfire’s David Forman explores how the newly published ISO 27701 is aligned with GDPR and the possibility and ramifications of its use as a GDPR certification standard.
On August 6, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published the ISO/IEC 27701:2019 (ISO 27701) standard five months ahead of schedule. This release is the first international privacy standard; it outlines the requirements for implementing an organizational program – known as a Privacy Information Management System (PIMS) – to govern the handling of personally identifiable information (PII).
ISO 27701 is the first ISO standard to reference to external frameworks or publications not actually developed by ISO. In this case, that external reference was none other than the headline-grabbing European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Considering the history and current state of privacy concerns, global privacy regulation, enforcement and this current passage of ISO 27701, one must contemplate whether ISO 27701 could become the certification path for GDPR.
To understand the standard’s potential ramifications for demonstrating compliance to privacy rules, we must first look at the evolution of regulators’ views on privacy since the introduction of the GDPR, which was transformative in setting a new baseline and interpretation for data subject rights.
Since its effective date in May 2018, violations of the GDPR have carried blockbuster penalties for companies like Google, Facebook, Marriott and British Airways due to the perceived mishandling or negligence toward the protection of PII.
In defense of these early examples that have been targeted by the data protection authorities (who wish to demonstrate their ability to enforce the GDPR):
How can these global companies gain any sort of assurance that they are doing enough to conform to this law when risk, by definition, can never be fully mitigated?
What is the modern security officer supposed to objectively demonstrate to provide confidence to its board that they have an acceptable level of protection?
And what influence does this new role of a Data Protection Officer (DPO) actually have if security and the protection of privacy are still commonly mistaken as outputs of the same control activities?
Organizations have attempted to garner further interpretations and clarifications of the GDPR, yet there is still no endorsed method for determining conformity – despite “certification mechanisms” being explicitly stated within Article 42 of the GDPR (but not elucidated).
As pressure has increased for data protection authorities like the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to act swiftly on investigations and to provide commentary on interpretations of the GDPR, it is peculiar that the CNIL, the French national data protection authority, had representation in the technical committee that met in Singapore during last month’s standards development meeting to discuss the final revisions and issuance of ISO 27701.
In inspecting minutes from the event, the primary talking points focused on pushing quick adoption of the PIMS through renumbering the International Standard and mapping these new requirements to the GDPR. The technical committee was able to (perhaps conveniently) align all of the articles within the GDPR to ISO 27701, with the exception of Article 43, which details requirements for bodies providing certification to GDPR or an accreditation program of sorts to ensure auditors of the standard maintain some form of common alignment.
While ISO 27701 is not yet governed by accreditation bodies such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) or ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), it is expected that certification bodies will begin to audit against this new international standard despite no established scheme being defined at the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) level.
In many ways, this certification mechanism is past due, as the law that defines the scheme has already been in force for over a year. Should the PIMS become synonymous with “GDPR certification” via endorsement through any of the data protection authorities, organizations will finally have a method to objectively demonstrate conformity as a result of third-party audits.
Furthermore, an attested compliance program with regular, independent inspections will spark a number of downstream effects on the sector, including better defenses during GDPR-related investigations; more elaborate clarifications to privacy laws, product and technological enablement; and more objective information for insurance underwriters to determine risk.
This new standard is a critical milestone for the ongoing management of privacy-related risks and an alternative normative reference that promotes the need to mature processes as the context of the organization evolves. Conformity assessment bodies will likely be leveraged for the immediate audits and assessments of this new standard due to overlapping existing accreditation requirements with those provisions detailed for bodies providing certification within the GDPR.