The GDPR is wrapping up its first year and moving full steam ahead. This principles-based regulation has had a global impact on organizations as well as individuals. While there continue to be many questions about its application and scope, anticipated European Data Protection Board guidance and Data Protection Authority enforcement activity should provide further clarity in the upcoming year. In the meantime, here are a few frequently asked questions – some reminders of key principles under the GDPR and others addressing challenges for implementation and what lies ahead.

Can US organizations be subject to the jurisdiction of the GDPR?

Whether a US organization is subject to the GDPR is a fact-based determination. Jurisdiction may apply where the US organization has human or technical resources located in the EU and processes EU personal data in the context of activities performed by those resources. In cases where the US organization does not have human or technical resources located in the EU, it may be subject to the GDPR’s jurisdiction in two instances: if the organization targets individuals in the EU (not businesses) by offering goods or services to them, regardless of whether payment is required, or if it monitors the behavior of individuals in the EU and uses that personal data for purposes such as profiling (e.g. website cookies, wearable devices). The GDPR may also apply indirectly to a US organization through a data processing agreement.

If we execute a data processing agreement, does that make our US organization subject to the GDPR?

When an organization subject to the GDPR engages a third party to process its EU data, the GDPR requires that the organization impose contractual obligations on the third party to implement certain GDPR-based safeguards. If you are not otherwise subject to the GDPR, executing a data processing agreement will not directly subject you to the GDPR. Instead, it will contractually obligate you to follow a limited, specific set of GDPR-based provisions. Your GDPR-based obligations will be indirect in that they are contractual in nature.

Does the GDPR apply only to the data of EU citizens?

No, the GDPR applies to the processing of the personal data of data subjects who are in the EU regardless of their nationality or residence.

Is our organization subject to the GDPR if EU individuals access our website and make purchases?

If your organization does not have human or technical resources in the EU, the mere accessibility of your website to EU visitors, alone, will not subject you to the GDPR. However, if your website is designed to target EU individuals (e.g. through features such as translation to local language, currency converters, local contact information, references to EU purchasers, or other accommodations for EU individuals) your activities may be viewed as targeting individuals in the EU and subject you to the GDPR.

Are we required to delete an individual’s personal data if they request it?

If your organization is subject to the GDPR, an individual may request that you delete their personal data. However, this is not an absolute right. Your organization is not required to delete the individual’s personal data if it is necessary

  • for compliance with a legal obligation or the establishment, exercise or defense of a legal claim
  • for reasons of public interest (e.g. public health, scientific, statistical or historical research purposes)
  • to exercise the right of freedom of expression or information
  • where there is a legal obligation to keep the data
  • or where you have anonymized the data.

Additional consideration should be given to any response when the individual’s data is also contained in your back-ups.

GDPR principles have started to influence law in the U.S. In fact, many have been watching developments regarding the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which shares a right to delete as it pertains to the personal information of a California resident. Similar to the GDPR, it is not an absolute right and in certain cases an exception may apply. For instances, both law contain an exception from the right to have personal information deleted when the information is needed to comply with certain laws.

Does the GDPR apply to an EU citizen who works in the US?

If your organization is not subject to the GDPR and you hire an EU citizen to work in the US, the GDPR may not apply to the processing of their personal data in the US. However, depending on the circumstances, the answer may be different if the EU citizen is in the US on temporary assignment from an EU parent. In that scenario, their data may be subject to the GDPR if the US entity’s relationship with the parent creates an establishment in the EU, and it processes this data in the context of the activities of that establishment. To the extent the EU parent transfers the EU employee’s personal data from the EU to the US entity, that transfer may require EU-US Privacy Shield certification, the execution of binding corporate rules, or standard contractual clauses. These measures are designed to ensure data is protected when it is transferred to a country, such as the US, that is not deemed to have reasonable safeguards.

Do we need to obtain an EU individual’s consent every time we collect their personal data?

If your organization is subject to the GDPR and processes an EU individual’s information, you must have a “legal basis” to do so. Consent is just one legal basis. In addition to consent, two of the most commonly used legal basis are the “legitimate interests” of your organization and the performance of a contract with the individual. A legitimate interest is a business or operational need that is not outweighed by the individual’s rights (e.g. processing personal data for website security, conducting background checks, or coordinating travel arrangements). Processing necessary to the performance of a contract is activity that enables you to perform a contract entered into with the individual (e.g. processing employee data for payroll pursuant to the employment contract or processing consumer data for shipping goods under a purchase order.)

Should we obtain an employee’s consent to process their personal data?

The GDPR requires that the individual’s consent be freely given, specific, informed, and revocable. Due to nature of the employment relationship, employers should rely on a legal basis other than consent for processing the employee’s personal data, where possible. When there is an imbalance of power between the party obtaining the consent and the individual giving it (as is regularly the case in the employment relationship), it is likely that the consent is not freely given and thus not valid. Employers should review whether alternative legal bases for processing apply, such as legitimate interest, performance of the employment contract, or compliance with a legal obligation.

Does the GDPR have specific security requirements?

The GDPR is a privacy regulation and while it does not include specific security standards, it does require the implementation of technical and organizational measures designed to provide a level of security appropriate to the risks. This may include, where appropriate, adopting and implementing internal policies and procedures to minimize the processing of personal data; pseudonymizing or encrypting personal data; ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of your processing systems and services; maintaining data backups and an incident response plan; and adopting a process to regularly test, assess and evaluate these measures.

What impact has the GDPR had in its first year?

EU Data Protection Authorities saw a significant increase in the public’s awareness of data privacy as they fielded over 144,000 questions and complaints regarding individual rights. This awareness further resulted in organizations reporting approximately 89,000 data breaches. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office determined that one-third of reported incidents did not trigger a notification obligation, suggesting that over-reporting is a concern. In order to avoid undertaking unnecessary response activity, incurring needless costs, and causing employees or customers undue concern, organizations should consider consulting counsel to identify whether an incident is reportable.

DPAs have brought enforcement actions against organizations of all sizes and issued a number of fines for violations including failing to secure users’ data, lack of consent for advertisements, failing to inform citizens that their data was being processed, unlawful video surveillance, and failing to implement necessary security for data processing. Each of these actions has provided greater understanding of how the GDPR should be applied and what the DPAs are addressing.

The impact of the GDPR was also felt beyond the borders of the EU as numerous countries have adopted data protection regulations. Here in the US, multiple states have proposed or enacted data privacy and security legislation based on transparency and choice principles including the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the Massachusetts Consumer Data Privacy Bill, and New Jersey’s Assembly Bill 4902.

What can we expect for the GDPR’s second year?

In its first year, the GDPR raised global awareness of data privacy. As it enters its second year, organizations should expect this awareness to generate increased requests from individuals to access or delete data and greater demand for appropriate data security. This may present unique challenges to employers as they navigate complying with the GDPR as well as applicable US or EU member state employment laws.

Fairness and data security featured prominently in enforcement activity this year and likely will continue. Organizations will have to address these issues by maintaining transparent processing practices and conducting regular risk assessments. Those involved in e-commerce will likely face continuing compliance challenges presented by the data collection activities of first or third party website cookies and tracking technologies. The Bavarian DPA randomly audited 40 companies to determine whether their websites provided visitors with transparent notice of data processing and tracking activity of third party cookies. None of the companies was in compliance. To facilitate GDPR and e-Privacy Directive compliance in the digital advertising ecosystem, the iab.EU (Interactive Advertising Bureau) has released TCF v2.0 for public comment. TCF is a framework designed to provide consumers with greater choice over the processing of their data, including opportunities to opt out, among other features.

Finally, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) issued several draft guidelines for public consultation during the year. Once reviewed and finalized, these documents should offer guidance and clarity in several areas including processing personal data obtained in the context of providing online services to data subjects, creating Codes of Conduct and Monitoring Bodies, the jurisdictional reach of the GDPR, and exemptions for the transfer of personal data to third countries.

During the next year, US companies will continue to identify and address their obligations under the GDPR. As they do so, they will likely find that many of these data protection practices can be leveraged to meet compliance challenges imposed by recently enacted or proposed US state laws. For those US companies not subject to the GDPR, the adoption of the GDPR’s underlying data protection principles might make sense.

Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Mr. Lazzarotti also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits Practice Group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Mr. Lazzarotti counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Mr. Lazzarotti’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Mr. Lazzarotti speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Mr. Lazzarotti served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Photo of Jason C. Gavejian Jason C. Gavejian

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Mr. Gavejian focuses on the matrix…

Jason C. Gavejian is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

As a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US), Mr. Gavejian focuses on the matrix of laws governing privacy, security, and management of data. Mr. Gavejian is Co-Editor of, and a regular contributor to, the firm’s Workplace Privacy, Data Management & Security Report blog.

Mr. Gavejian’s work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling international, national, and regional companies on the vast array of privacy and security mandates, preventive measures, policies, procedures, and best practices. This includes, but is not limited to, the privacy and security requirements under state, federal, and international law (e.g., HIPAA/HITECH, GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), FTC Act, ECPA, SCA, GLBA etc.). Mr. Gavejian helps companies in all industries to assess information risk and security as part of the development and implementation of comprehensive data security safeguards including written information security programs (WISP). Additionally, Mr. Gavejian assists companies in analyzing issues related to: electronic communications, social media, electronic signatures (ESIGN/UETA), monitoring and recording (GPS, video, audio, etc.), biometrics, and bring your own device (BYOD) and company owned personally enabled device (COPE) programs, including policies and procedures to address same. He regularly advises clients on compliance issues under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and has represented clients in suits, including class actions, brought in various jurisdictions throughout the country under the TCPA.

Mr. Gavejian represents companies with respect to inquiries from the HHS/OCR, state attorneys general, and other agencies alleging wrongful disclosure of personal/protected information. Mr. Gavejian negotiates vendor agreements and other data privacy and security agreements, including business associate agreements. His work in the area of privacy and data security includes counseling and coaching clients through the process of investigating and responding to breaches of the personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI) they maintain about consumers, customers, employees, patients, and others, while also assisting clients in implementing policies, practices, and procedures to prevent future data incidents.

Mr. Gavejian represents management exclusively in all aspects of employment litigation, including restrictive covenants, class-actions, harassment, retaliation, discrimination, and wage and hour claims in both federal and state courts. Mr. Gavejian regularly appears before administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and the New Jersey Department of Labor. Mr. Gavejian’s practice also focuses on advising/counseling employers regarding daily workplace issues.

Mr. Gavejian’s litigation experience, coupled with his privacy practice, provides him with a unique view of many workplace issues and the impact privacy, data security, and social media may play in actual or threatened lawsuits.

Mr. Gavejian regularly provides training to both executives and employees and regularly speaks on current privacy, data security, monitoring, recording, BYOD/COPE, biometrics (BIPA), social media, TCPA, and information management issues. His views on these topics have been discussed in multiple publications, including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle (SFGATE), National Law Review, Bloomberg BNA, Inc.com, @Law Magazine, Risk and Insurance Magazine, LXBN TV, Business Insurance Magazine, and HR.BLR.com.

Mr. Gavejian is the Co-Chair of Jackson Lewis’ Hispanic Attorney Resource Group, a group committed to increasing the firm’s visibility among Hispanic-American and other minority attorneys, as well as mentoring the firm’s attorneys to assist in their training and development. Mr. Gavejian also previously served on the National Leadership Committee of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) and regularly volunteers his time for pro bono matters.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, Mr. Gavejian served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Richard J. Donohue on the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County.