October 18, 2023 By Mark Stone 4 min read

You may be familiar with data protection laws like HIPAA, GDPR and CCPA. But did you know that other foreign countries are also introducing comprehensive regulations?

To address escalating data protection challenges, the Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) was implemented in Saudi Arabia in September 2021. The law was later modified in March 2023, signifying a significant milestone in the country’s efforts to comply with international data protection standards.

In addition to the PDPL’s significance to Saudi Arabia, this new legislation will affect organizations locally and around the world.

A brief overview of the PDPL

The PDPL, implemented by Royal Decree M/19 of September 17, 2021, and amended on March 21, 2023, is Saudi Arabia’s first data protection law. Overseen by The Saudi Data & Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) and the National Data Management Office (NDMO), the law was created to ensure the privacy of personal data, regulate data sharing and prevent the misuse of personal data.

Key principles covered by the PDPL include:

Purpose limitation and data minimization: Data controllers can only collect personal data for specific, explicit and legitimate purposes. Once gathered, the data should only be used in ways that align with the original reasons for collecting it. Personal data must also be adequate, relevant and limited to the purposes for which it is processed.

Controller obligations: Organizations or individuals that determine the purposes and means of processing personal data are considered “controllers.” Controllers’ responsibilities include:

  • Registration. Entities processing personal data must register with the relevant authority, providing details about their data processing activities.
  • Maintenance of data processing records. Controllers must maintain comprehensive records of their data processing activities for the purposes of transparency and accountability.

Data subject rights: Individuals have specific rights surrounding their processed data under the PDPL, which include:

  • Right to access: Individuals can request information about the personal data being processed about them.
  • Right to rectification: If personal data is inaccurate or incomplete, individuals have the right to have it corrected.
  • Right to erasure: Under certain conditions, individuals can request the deletion of their personal data.
  • Right to object: Individuals can object to the processing of their personal data for specific reasons — direct marketing, for example.

Penalties for breach of provisions: Non-compliance with the PDPL can result in severe penalties — tangible (financial) and non-tangible (reputational). The law outlines specific fines and sanctions for data breaches.

Implications for organizations

As Saudi Arabia takes this monumental step forward, organizations find themselves at a pivotal crossroads. Data security can no longer be an afterthought; it must be woven into the very fabric of business operations.

Here are some of the key organizational implications.

Increased accountability: Compliance with PDPL entails a requirement to adopt comprehensive data protection policies, conduct regular audits and ensure that data protection is integrated into operations.

Data protection officers (DPOs): Larger organizations or those involved in high-risk data processing may need to appoint a DPO who can oversee data protection activities and ensure compliance with the PDPL.

Data breach notifications: In the event of a data breach, organizations may be required to notify the relevant authorities and affected individuals within a specific timeframe. Here, having robust breach detection, investigation and internal reporting procedures in place is paramount.

Cross-border data transfers: The PDPL may impose restrictions on transferring personal data outside Saudi Arabia. Organizations must have adequate safeguards in place when transferring data internationally.

Training and awareness: Organizations will need to invest in staff training to ensure they understand the PDPL’s requirements and their role in ensuring compliance.

Vendor management: Organizations should review contracts with third-party vendors that process personal data on their behalf to ensure third parties also meet PDPL requirements.

Technological implications: Organizations may need to invest in new technologies or update existing ones to ensure data protection by design and default.

Financial implications: Non-compliance can result in hefty fines. Therefore, organizations must include the potential financial impact of non-compliance when budgeting and planning.

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The significance of the PDPL to Saudi Arabia

The introduction of the Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) in Saudi Arabia is a significant step forward for cybersecurity, with profound implications for the nation.

Here are just a few ways in which the PDPL impacts the country.

Alignment with international standards: The PDPL brings Saudi Arabia into closer alignment with global data protection standards, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Boosting digital economy: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 emphasizes the importance of a digital transformation to diversify the economy, instilling confidence in digital enterprises and consumers.

Protection of citizens’ rights: The PDPL underscores Saudi Arabia’s commitment to safeguarding its citizens’ rights and privacy, granting individuals control over their personal data.

Strengthening trust: For digital services to thrive, users must trust that their data is safe.

Attracting foreign investment: A robust data protection framework can make Saudi Arabia more attractive to foreign investors, especially tech companies that handle vast amounts of personal data.

Setting a regional benchmark: While some Middle Eastern countries have data protection laws in place, the PDPL sets a high standard for the region and may inspire other Middle Eastern nations to bolster their data protection frameworks.

Addressing modern challenges: In an era of big data, AI and advanced analytics, the potential for misuse of personal data has grown. The PDPL is a proactive step by Saudi Arabia to address these modern challenges, ensuring that as technology evolves, the rights of individuals remain protected.

Cultural and societal considerations: The PDPL is not merely a carbon copy of international laws. It is tailored to fit Saudi Arabia’s unique cultural and societal context and resonates with the values and beliefs of the Saudi population.

How IBM Security Guardium can help your business meet compliance regulations

Compliance with data regulations is a worldwide concern. To that end, IBM Security Guardium Insights is a data security platform that automates compliance policy enforcement and centralizes data activity across multiple clouds. This process provides a consolidated view of critical data access and usage in hybrid environments.

With software and SaaS deployment options, Guardium Insights caters to both large enterprises with seasoned data security teams as well as smaller enterprises just beginning their data compliance journey — wherever they’re located.

Learn more about IBM Security Guardium Insights here.

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