How to Become a Data Protection Officer: A Complete Career Guide

Data Protection

For many businesses, the data protection officer (DPO) is a relatively new job. The position, duty, and reporting structure of a DPO are largely specified by the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (GDPR). The GDPR was enacted on April 14, 2016, and it went into effect on May 25, 2018. It is necessary to remember that, in addition to EU members, any business that sells products or services to EU citizens, regardless of its venue, is subject to the regulation.

The GDPR’s requirement that many businesses appoint a data protection officer (DPO) has created a competition for people with the requisite skills and experience. Even if a DPO is not needed by GDPR, many companies would opt to have an individual work in the capacity of a DPO without formally naming them as such. This keeps the company free from the restrictions imposed by officially designating a DPO, while also allowing the role holder to promote data security and data privacy activities.

The duties of a DPO may be applied to those of a current well-qualified employee rather than creating a new role that requires a new recruit for small and mid-sized businesses (SMB). For larger organizations, a full-time position for this critical role is often established.

Steps to becoming a data protection officer

To become a data protection officer, you’ll need a mix of knowledge and experience. The following is an example of a frequently requested combination of schooling, experience, career path, and technical certifications:

  • Education is quite important. A bachelor’s or master’s degree in information security, computer science, or a related field is required. A bachelor’s degree or J.D., as well as comparable work experience in privacy, enforcement, information security, auditing, or a similar area, are often considered.
  • Career course After 10+ years of practice in the various privacy disciplines, promotion to DPO is a reasonable goal (e.g., privacy program and policy, privacy law, information governance, incident response, information security, training, and awareness, etc.).
  • Certifications for professionals CIPP/E, CIPP/US, and/or CIPM certifications from the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) may be needed. ISACA governance and risk management certifications (e.g., CRISC, CGEIT, etc.) are also preferred.
  • Experimentation with 5+ years of experience in privacy and/or compliance-related risk management roles could be desired. Other related fields (such as finance, business management, information technology, and so on) are often considered as long as the applicant can demonstrate relevance to this information security-based position.

What is a data protection officer?

Within an enterprise, the data protection officer is the steward of data protection implementation and data privacy strategy. They are in charge of fostering a data-protection culture throughout the organization. They ensure enterprise-wide enforcement. While the implementation of GDPR brought international visibility to the idea of a structured DPO role, the concept has existed in more than a few privacy-conscious organizations for some time.

A data protection officer (DPO) oversees organizational data security, and as previously reported, this enterprise leadership position is required for GDPR enforcement for some businesses. Public agencies and businesses that handle vast volumes of special categories of personal data must appoint a DPO.

GDPR’s terminology suggests that the complexity of an entity, not the size and scope of data processing, is what necessitates the appointment of a DPO. Unfortunately, the GDPR does not specify what constitutes “large-scale” data processing. Although there are no exact standards for the size of data handling, most small businesses would not be expected to employ a DPO unless data processing or storage is their primary concern.

According to the GDPR, the DPO should report directly to the highest level of management. While the DPO does not have to be directly supervised at this stage, they must have direct access to senior managers who make decisions about personal data processing. The DPO’s mandate to advise senior management on these issues is made easier by this arrangement. The GDPR provides DPOs with some safeguards against layoffs. This safeguard is in place to ensure that DPOs are not fired for merely carrying out their duties.

A business does not delegate the DPO position to legal counsel who is involved in possible or real litigation or regulatory action against the company to ensure that the DPO will remain autonomous and free from pressure to fulfill conflicting interests within the organization. Furthermore, the DPO position should not be assigned to the company’s chief IT or security manager, as the DPO would be expected to provide candid advice on the company’s IT and security systems.

Data protection officer skills and experience

First and foremost, the DPO nominee must be able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the GDPR. Even if you’re not looking for someone who knows everything there is to know about GDPR, many employers will use an understanding of this de-facto norm for data privacy standards to assess your suitability for this role. An increasing number of companies are searching for DPOs specifically to fulfill GDPR requirements.

“The data protection officer shall be designated on the basis of professional qualities, in particular expert knowledge of data protection law and practices, and the ability to fulfill the tasks…”, according to Article 37 of the GDPR. Many experts believe that a DPO should be a licensed lawyer that has ample knowledge of not only GDPR but other privacy laws that are relevant to the employer. At a minimum, a legal background is beneficial for recognizing and interpreting the specific legal standards surrounding data privacy. In addition to understanding what the different laws and regulations mean, a DPO must also have information on how these laws are interpreted and enforced in case law.

The risk associated with data privacy varies by company and industry. It is important that the DPO has a thorough understanding of the company’s business operations as well as the data handling requirements of that sector. Experience in that company and in that sector are important qualifications. The inherent advantages of hiring a DPO with this specific company’s and industry knowledge put a lot of pressure on senior management to hire an in-house DPO rather than outsource the role.

A DPO should have practical experience in the field of cybersecurity, even though technological expertise is not considered a primary requirement. The nominee should have dealt with real-world security events so that they can advise on risk assessments, countermeasures, and data security impact assessments. While GDPR includes a section on defense, it is just one part of the overall law.

Individuals with a security background are often narrowly focused on external threats and lack the legal and customer service expertise required to carry out the multiple duties of this essential position.

What do data protection officers do?

The data protection officer ensures that an agency follows the laws protecting personal data in an impartial manner. DPOs are in charge of informing the organization and its employees about enforcement, training data processing personnel, and performing routine security audits. DPOs are also the company’s point of contact for any supervisory authorities (SAs) that regulate data-related activities.

Data protection and privacy evangelist is an organization’s data protection and privacy evangelist. This also means that the DPO will be put in a role that is at odds with the company’s main performance metrics and agendas. To be effective in this role, one must be both strong-willed and capable of negotiating with and finding common ground with other leaders.

Data protection officer job description

The ideal candidate would have a thorough understanding of GDPR as well as legal experience in the field of privacy. They’ll have specialist certifications in protection or privacy that can be checked. One or more IAPP or ISACA certifications will be held by the applicant. It is important to have existing relationships with agencies with authority over data security and privacy issues.

The applicant must be able to show fast learning abilities. This role would necessitate the ability to rapidly understand company processes and policies concerning the use and distribution of personally identifiable information (PII).

An established track record in one or more of the following areas is required of the DPO candidate: data protection, privacy advocacy, cybersecurity, information security, and regulatory enforcement.

The following are some of the duties of a data protection officer:

    • In-house legal counsel on encryption, privacy by design, data sharing, and data transfer.
    • Any commercial agreement containing confidential information should be drafted, negotiated, and reviewed.
    • Advising and drafting data protection-related documents including contract due diligence with either GDPR or CCPA.
    • Providing advice and assistance with various new enforcement reporting/data monitoring standards, as well as reviewing internal codes of conduct.
    • Knowledge of all relevant privacy laws.

Outlook for data protection officers

The world of data privacy and security is exploding. Officers of data security are in high demand. Many companies lack clear guidance in determining recruiting criteria for a new DPO because this is a new position for them. As a result, candidates with the ability to advise a company on what is required, what the job should entail, and even the value the DPO will add to the organization are in high demand.

According to all indications, the demand for DPOs will continue to rise in the near future.

How much do data protection officers make?

The average salary for data protection officers, according to ZipRecruiter, is $85,696 USD per year, with annual salaries as high as $156,500.

The 2018 mean annual salary for enforcement officers (a closely related specialty to data protection officer) was $72,520, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Jennifer Thomas
Jennifer Thomas is the Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Cybers Guards. Prior to that, She was responsible for leading its Cyber Security Practice and Cyber Security Operations Center, which provided managed security services.