The United Arab Emirates has enacted its first comprehensive national data protection law to regulate the collection and processing of personal data. Federal Decree Law No. 45 of 2021 regarding the Protection of Personal Data (PDPL) was published by the Cabinet Office on 27th November 2021 as part of a legal reform programme in advance of the UAE’s Golden Jubilee. The detailed Executive Regulations are expected to be published on 20th March 2022 with the new law becoming fully enforceable six months later.
The UAE is no stranger to data protection laws. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020 became enforceable in October 2020. However, it only applies companies under the jurisdiction of the DIFC as well as those processing personal data on their behalf. In February 2021, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) enacted its new Data Protection Regulations 2021 with the same limited applicability. There are also a number of other sector specific laws in the UAE which address personal privacy and data security.
PDPL applies to all organisations that are processing personal data in the UAE irrespective of whether the data relates to Data Subjects living in the UAE. It also has an “extra-territorial” reach by applying to organisations based abroad who are processing personal data of Data Subjects resident in the UAE. PDPL does not apply to government data, government authorities that control or process personal data and personal data held by security and judicial authorities. Health data, credit data and banking data are also excluded as they are protected by other laws.
PDPL is closely aligned with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK GDPR. It mirrors their underlying principles of transparency and accountability and, like them, empowers Data Subjects by giving them rights in relation to their personal data. We set out below the notable provisions. We have included links to previous GDPR blog posts useful for readers wanting more detail:
- Lawful Bases – Article 4 states that personal data can only be processed with the consent of the Data Subject. Exceptions include, amongst others, if the processing is: necessary to execute a contract to which the Data Subject is a party; required to protect interests of the public; relates to data already in the public domain; necessary to comply with other laws. Interestingly, PDPL does not include “legitimate interests” as a lawful basis for processing, as is found in GDPR.
- Consent – Where consent is used as the lawful basis for processing personal data, it should be obtained from Data Subjects in a specific, clear and unambiguous form and should be freely given through a clear affirmative statement or action (Article 6). Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
- Rights – Data Subjects are granted various rights in Articles 14-18 of the PDPL which will be familiar to GDPR practitioners. These include Subject Access, Data Portability, rectification or erasure of personal data, restriction on processing, objection to automated decision making and the right to stop processing.
- Data Protection Impact Assessments – Article 21 requires, what GDPR Practitioners call, “DPIAs” to be undertaken in relation to any new high risk data processing operations. This will involve assessing the impact of the processing on the risks to the rights of Data Subjects, especially their privacy and confidentiality.
- Breach Notification – Article 9 requires organisations to notify the regulator, as well as a Data Subjects, if they suffer a personal data breach which compromises Data Subjects’ confidentiality, security or privacy. The timeframe for notifying will be set by the Executive Regulations.
- Data Processors – PDPL imposes direct compliance obligations on Data Processors in Article 8 and obligations on Data Controllers when engaging them, similar to Article 28 of GDPR e.g. contracts.
- Records Management – Organisations will have to demonstrate compliance with PDPL by keeping records. There is a specific requirement in Article 7 to “keep a register of Personal Data” similar to a Record of Processing Activities(ROPA) under GDPR.
- International Transfers – Article 22 imposes limitations on the international transfer of personal data outside of the UAE. Similar to the concept of the “adequacy” under the GDPR, the regulator is expected to approve certain countries as having “sufficient provisions, measures, controls, requirements and rules” for protecting privacy and confidentiality of personal data. Article 23 sets out exceptions although further details will be set out in the Executive Regulations.
- Data Protection Officers – Organisations (both controllers and processors) will need to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) in certain circumstances, set out in Article 10, including where the processing creates a high-level risk due to the use of new technology or the volume of the personal data; processing includes an assessment of sensitive personal data as part of profiling or automated processing; or where large volumes of sensitive personal data are processed. The DPO can be an employee or an independent service provider and does not need to be located in the UAE. Articles 11 set out the responsibilities of the DPO and it is interesting to note that, just like under the GDPR, the PDPL gives the role protected status i.e. they cannot be dismissed for doing their job.
PDPL will be enforced by the UAE’s Data Office. The Executive Regulations will set out the administrate penalties that can be imposed on organisations for breaches. They could mirror current laws, such as the DIFC DP Law, where the maximum fine for a breach is $100,000. Organisations may also be required to pay compensation directly to Data Subjects or be sued by them. Alongside other sanctions, GDPR allows the regulator to impose a fine of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of gross annual turnover, whichever is higher. It will be interesting to see if PDPL follows GDPR.
PDPL is likely to become fully enforceable by the end of September 2022. Organisations operating in the UAE need to assess the impact on their data processing activities. Systems and processes need to be put in place to ensure compliance. Failure to do so will not just lead to enforcement action but also reputational damage. The following should be part of an action plan for compliance:
- Training staff at all levels to understand PDPL at how it will impact on their role.
- Carrying out a data audit to understand what personal data is held, where it sits and how it is processed.
- Reviewing how records management and information risk is addressed within the organisation.
- Reviewing information security policies and procedures in the light of the new more stringent security obligations particularly breach notification.
- Draft policies and procedures to deal with Data Subjects’ rights particularly requests for subject access, rectification and erasure.
- Appointing and training a Data Protection Officer.
Act Now Training can help your organisation prepare for PDPL by training your staff and the all-important Data Protection Officer. We have delivered training to UAE businesses using our UAE specific training courses. This includes our very popular DPO Certificate course customised for the UAE. We can also deliver customised in house training both online and face to face.
Please get in touch to discuss you training needs. We are in Dubai from 16th to 21st January 2022 and would be happy to arrange a meeting.