As you put together your resolutions and plans for the new business year, it is important to remember that the European Union’s (“E.U.”) General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) will go into effect on May 25, 2018. The impact that it could have on U.S. companies will depend on whether a company processes the personal data of E.U. citizens (note: the definition of “personal data” under the GDPR is quite broad). If you think this doesn’t apply to your company, think again – even without a physical presence in the E.U., the internet makes it easier than ever to collect personal data from E.U. residents while operating solely in the U.S. So, whether it’s the information of your customers, the customers of your clients, or even the personal data of your own employees, it is important to be aware of your obligations under GDPR and the ways by which you can comply.
As we introduced last year, underpinning the GDPR is the view that privacy is a fundamental human right. Accordingly, the GDPR takes a comprehensive approach to privacy law – much more so than the sectoral approach used here in the U.S. In the U.S., privacy tends to be regulated based on the category of information collected (e.g., protected health information under HIPAA). Under the GDPR, as well as its predecessor, the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, the focus is on personal data in all sectors of industry. And we should take a moment to remind everyone that stringent regulations on transferring personal data from the E.U. to the U.S. are not something new. U.S. companies should have been complying with the Data Protection Directive since 1995. Indeed, many companies are just now starting to do what they should have been doing for a long while. In truth, in some part, this lack of compliance or sufficient protection of personal data is why the GDPR has come to be.