Belgium DPO conflict of interest resulted in a fine

2 years on and finally a fine pertaining directly to the role of the DPO…. hurray! What a great celebration for GDPR and each of us who have the privilege to be a Data Protection Officer.

Avoidance of a conflict of interest for the DPO is super important in any organisation because the role requires that he/she stands in the shoes of the data subject which potentially can conflict with how the organisation views risk.

If we take this from a privacy risk angle, what is privacy risk? It is the risk of harm to the rights and freedoms of an individual (or natural person as per GDPR). You can think of the DPO similar to a consumer advocate in an organisation, except it’s ensuring that the organisation is fulfilling its obligation as a fit custodian of personal data, and ensuring that the rights of the data subject are met.

A conflict of interest can occur when looking at risk. Every privacy risk will equate to another organisational risk, i.e. missing encryption on laptops is a privacy risk but it is a security risk which is the cause of this privacy risk.

When you as DPO need to decide on risk appetite, you need to do this in the shoes of the data subject first. It’s not practical to ask all (data subjects) if they find this risk okay to accept, most wouldn’t understand what you’re talking about. As a CISO/CRO you will be looking at risk from the view of the organisation’s risk appetite. In fact these 2 views can create conflict in the role of the DPO, hence a conflict of interest.

This is why the recent ruling in Belgium is so important since GDPR came into force.

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