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In the ever-evolving data privacy landscape, businesses must stay ahead of the curve to protect themselves and their customers. One crucial tool that can help you navigate this complex terrain is a privacy impact assessment, or PIA.

What is a privacy impact assessment (PIA)?

Privacy impact assessments are like a roadmap for safeguarding personal data within your organization. They help identify and manage privacy risks, ensure your business complies with privacy laws, and ultimately, protect your reputation.

Why should your business care about PIAs?

  • Proactive risk management: Think of PIAs as your early warning system. By conducting a PIA before implementing a new system or service that deals with personal data, you can spot potential issues and resolve them before they become major problems.
  • Tailored to your needs: PIAs can be adapted to suit the nature, scope, and content of your project. This means they will not necessarily be a massive paperwork hassle or take an extended period to complete.
  • Accountability: PIAs make your business more accountable when it comes to handling personal data. They instill a culture of care and selectivity in data processing, reducing the risk of privacy issues that can harm your business.
  • Compliance with privacy law: PIAs ensure that your systems and services comply with privacy laws, helping you avoid legal pitfalls and potential fines.
  • Risk mitigation: PIAs identify privacy risks and their severity, allowing you to develop a clear plan of action to avoid those risks.
  • Continuous improvement: PIAs are not a one-and-done deal. You should regularly review and update them as your systems and services change.

The five key elements of a PIA

A typical privacy impact assessment will include:

  1. A description of the proposed system or service: This sets the stage for the assessment, giving a clear understanding of what is being evaluated.
  2. Identification of personal data: This includes details on what personal data is being collected, how, from whom, and for what purpose.
  3. Data use and protection: Here, you will outline how the personal data will be used, disclosed, retained, and most importantly, how it will be protected.
  4. Privacy law compliance: Ensure that your system or service complies with relevant privacy laws.
  5. Risk assessment and action plan: Identify privacy risks and their severity, then create a plan to avoid these risks.

The rising importance of PIAs

While PIAs are currently a best practice in many jurisdictions, privacy laws across Canada and the United States are rapidly evolving. Québec, for instance, will require PIAs in specific circumstances starting from September 22, 2023. This includes situations where businesses send personal data outside of Québec.

Moreover, Québec will mandate businesses to enter into data protection agreements that consider the results of the PIA (watch my prior video blog, Understanding data protection agreements: Key concepts and benefits, to learn more).

This shift from a best practice to a legal requirement is a telling sign of what is to come in Canadian privacy law.

Have questions about PIAs? We can help.

If you have any questions related to this Article’s content, you may reach out to any lawyer in Siskinds’ Privacy, Cyber & Data Governance Team. You can also reach out to the author, Savvas Daginis — a Canadian and American Business, Technology, and Privacy Lawyer — at [email protected] if you have any questions.


Special thanks to articling students Ellen Yoo, Nat Leung, and Orion Boverhof for their assistance in developing the script for this video.

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