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When is a Transfer Impact Assessment Needed?

· 3 min read
Alexander Eklöf

The landscape of data protection and privacy is becoming increasingly complex, especially with the rapid globalization of business operations. In the world of data governance, ensuring compliant cross-border data transfers is a crucial component of protecting personal data. But when do organizations need to undertake a Transfer Impact Assessment (TIA)? Understanding the requirements for a TIA is essential for Data Privacy Officers, Compliance Officers, Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs), and Cybersecurity Professionals.

EU-US Data Privacy Framework

The European Commission has given the green light to the EU-US Data Privacy Framework, allowing personal data to flow freely from the EU to US companies participating in the program. This decision follows actions taken by the US government to address concerns raised by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in its Schrems II decision.

What this means for businesses:

  • Companies can now rely on the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework as a legal mechanism to transfer EU citizen data to the US.
  • This simplifies the process compared to using other options like Standard Contractual Clauses, which require more complex assessments.

Transfer Impact Assessments (TIAs) are still important:

While the Framework streamlines data transfers, companies should still conduct TIAs to ensure US companies they work with actually comply with the program's privacy obligations. The new Framework doesn't eliminate the need to assess potential risks to EU citizen data, even with US government safeguards in place.

Understanding Transfer Impact Assessments

A Transfer Impact Assessment is a detailed examination that organizations must conduct when transferring personal data to countries or entities that do not provide the same level of data protection as the jurisdiction of the data’s origin. The core purpose of a TIA is to evaluate the risks associated with the data transfer and implement measures to mitigate those risks to uphold the protection of individual rights.

The requirement for TIAs emerged prominently after the Schrems II decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This decision invalidated the Privacy Shield framework, which thousands of companies relied on for transatlantic data transfers. The aftermath highlighted the importance of evaluating the legal framework and practices related to privacy and surveillance in the recipient country.

When is a TIA Necessary?

  1. International Data Transfers

    Whenever an organization based in a jurisdiction with stringent data protection laws (like the European Union) plans to transfer personal data to third countries, a TIA is necessary. The key is that these countries must be outside of the legal frameworks that are recognized as providing adequate protection (e.g., the EU General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR).

  2. Changes in Legislation

    If there is a change in the destination country’s legislation or practices impacting data protection, an existing TIA might need to be updated or a new one conducted to reflect these changes.

  3. New Data Transfer Agreements

    When entering into new contractual arrangements or modifying existing ones that involve international data transfers, you will need to conduct a TIA to ensure compliance with relevant data protection laws.

  4. Legal and Practical Developments

    Developments such as case law, regulatory guidance, or practical changes in the security landscape of the destination country may also trigger the need for a TIA.

  5. Data Transfer Mechanisms

    If the standard contractual clauses (SCCs) or binding corporate rules (BCRs) apply to your data transfers, you must perform a TIA to verify that the data subjects' rights are fully enforceable and protected.

The Process of Conducting a TIA

Conducting a TIA involves several steps:

  1. Map the Data Flow

    Clearly identifying where the data comes from and where it is going is crucial. You need to understand the nature of the data, the purposes of the transfer, and the categories of data subjects involved.

  2. Assess the Data Protection Level in the Recipient Country

    Evaluate the laws and practices of the recipient country. This includes law enforcement access to data, surveillance laws, and the available legal remedies for data subjects.

  3. Device Adequate Safeguards

    If the assessment reveals risks to data subjects, implement appropriate safeguards. This may include encryption, pseudonymization, or additional contractual clauses.

  4. Document and Review

    Document the TIA process and findings. Regularly review the assessment, especially when conditions change, to ensure ongoing compliance.

Concluding Thoughts

Understanding the nuances surrounding Transfer Impact Assessments is vital for anyone responsible for ensuring the legality of international data transfers. Cybersecurity and privacy professionals must remain vigilant and proactive in conducting TIAs to safeguard personal data amidst evolving legislative landscapes worldwide.

It is not merely about compliance but upholding the high standards of trust and security that individuals expect when it comes to their personal information. By thoroughly assessing transfer impacts, organizations can ensure not only adherence to laws but also a reinforcement of their commitment to data privacy.

Remember, the need for a Transfer Impact Assessment stems from the ongoing duty to secure data—a commitment that transcends borders and anchors the foundation of trust in our digital world.

Try Unicis Transfer Impact Assessment for Jira for Free!

Unicis Transfer Impact Assessment for Jira is an application tool helping companies to be compliant with the Chapter 5 GDPR regulations and to make an inventory of the data processing what you are doing with the concerned personal data. Soon also available in Unicis Platform.