Saudi Arabian Data Protection Law Update 

In September 2021, Saudi Arabia announced its first ever data protection law. The Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) was implemented by Royal Decree M/19 of 9/2/1443H approving Resolution No. 98 dated 7/2/1443H (14th September 2021). PDPL will regulate the collection, handling, disclosure and use of personal data and includes governance and transparency obligations. It will initially be enforced by the Saudi Arabian Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA). 

PDPL was originally going to come fully into force on 23rd March 2022. However, in November 2022, SDAIA published proposed amendments for public consultation. On 21st March 2023, some of these amendments were passed by the Saudi Council of Ministers. PDPL will now officially come into force on 14th September 2023 and organisations will have till 13th September 2024 to comply. Much of the detail of the new law will be set out in the Executive Regulations which we are still waiting for, although a draft version was issued last year. 

The amendments to PDPL introduce several concepts that will align the new law more closely to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK GDPR. These include: 

  • New Ground for Processing: Like the GDPR, Data Controllers may now rely on “legitimate interests” as a lawful basis to process personal data; this does not apply to sensitive personal data, or processing that contravenes the rights granted under PDPL and its executive regulations.  
  • Easier International Transfers: Like other data protection regimes, PDPL imposes limitations on the international transfer of personal data outside of the KSA. The strict prohibition on transfers outside Saudi Arabia has now been amended. Furthermore they no longer require approval from SDAIA. Data Controllers will need a specific purpose to transfer data outside the Kingdom and transfers appear to be limited to territories that SDAIA determines as having an appropriate level of protection for personal data, which will be further clarified once they issue evaluation criteria for this purpose. The pending executive regulations should set out exemptions from this condition.  
  • Removal of Controller Registration Requirements: The original law required Data Controllers to register on an electronic portal that would form a national record. This provision has now been removed. However, SDAIA has the mandate to license auditors and accreditation entities and create a national register if it determines that it would be an appropriate tool and mechanism for monitoring the compliance of controllers. 
  • Data Breach Notification Relaxed: Notifications of personal data breaches to SDAIA are no longer required “immediately.” However, controllers must now notify data subjects when a breach threatens personal data or contravenes the data subject’s rights or interests. The pending regulations are expected to provide additional specificity, such as particular dates for notifying data breaches and threshold requirements.  
  • Criminal Offences Reduced: The penalties for breaching PDPL will be a warning or a fine of up to SAR 5,000,000 (USD 1,333,000) that may be doubled for repeat offences. Criminal sanctions for violating the PDPL’s data transfer restrictions have been removed. There now remains only one criminal offence in relation to the disclosure or publication of sensitive personal data in violation of the law.  

Action Plan for Compliance 

Businesses established in Saudi Arabia, as well as those processing Saudi citizens’ personal data anywhere in the world, have sixteen months to prepare for PDPL. Considering that those covered by GDPR had four years, this is not a long time. Now is the time to put systems and processes 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: 

  1. Raising awareness about PDPL at all levels. Our GDPR elearning course can be tailored for frontline staff. 
  1. Carrying out a data audit and reviewing how records management and information risk is addressed. 
  1. Reviewing information security policies and procedures in the light of the new more stringent security obligations particularly breach notification
  1. Revising privacy policies in the light of the more prescriptive transparency requirements.  
  1. Writing policies and procedures to deal with new and revised Data Subject rights such as Data Portability and Subject Access. 
  1. Appointing and training a Data Protection Officer.  

The new KSA data protection law is an important development in Middle East privacy law alongside the passing of the new UAE Federal DP law.
These laws, being closely aligned with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK GDPR, open up exciting job opportunities for UK and EU Data Protection professionals. A quick scan of jobs sites shows a growing number of prospects. 

Act Now in the Middle East 

Act Now Training can help your businesses prepare for PDPL. We have delivered training extensively in the Middle East to a wide range of delegates including representatives of the telecommunications, legal and technology sectors. Check out our UAE privacy programme. We can also deliver customised in house training both remotely and face to face.
Please get in touch to discuss your training or consultancy needs.  

Our new Intermediate Certificate in GDPR Practice includes a module on worldwide data protection laws. 

The New Dubai (DIFC) Data Protection Law

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1st of July 2020 is a key date in the development of global data protection law.
The  California Consumer Privacy Act  (CCPA)  became fully enforceable on this date following a six month grace period.  The Act regulates the processing of California consumers’ personal data, regardless of where a company is located. It provides broader rights to consumers and stricter compliance requirements for businesses than any other state or federal privacy law.

1st July 2020 is also the date when a new data protection law also came into effect in Dubai, although it will not be enforced until 1st October 2020. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020 (DPL2020) will regulate the collection, handling, disclosure and use of personal data and includes enhanced governance and transparency obligations. DPL2020 is closely aligned with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and replaces DIFC Law No. 1 of 2007.


DPL2020 is not a data protection law for the whole of the United Arab Emirates or even just the emirate Dubai. The UAE has several laws on covering data protection themes including cyber security but there isn’t yet one main national data protection law across the country. 

DPL 2020 mainly applies to businesses operating in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). This is the leading financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region. The 110-acre DIFC district is located in the heart of Dubai where 2400 business are registered employing over 25000 professionals in, amongst others, the legal, financial, management and regulatory sectors. If a business is registered in the DIFC, or processes personal data within the DIFC as part of stable arrangements it is covered by the new law as well as any business which processes data on behalf of either of the above.

Key Provisions

Those who know about GDPR will find many familiar concepts and principles in DPL2020 including data protection principles, Data Subjects’ rights and obligations on Data Controllers and Data Processors. We set out below the notable provisions. We have included links to our blog posts explaining the similar provisions found in GDPR:

  • Records Management: Businesses will have to demonstrate compliance with DPL2020. This requires amongst other things, better record management.
  • Data Protection Impact AssessmentsThese will have to be undertaken in relation to any new High Risk Processing Activities”. This will involve assessing the impact of the proposed data processing operation on the risks to the rights of Data Subjects.
  • Privacy Notices: These will have to be updated to include more information including the legal basis for processing and the rights of Data Subjects.
  • Breach Notification: Businesses will have to notify the regulator if they suffer a personal data breach which compromises a Data Subject’s confidentiality, security or privacy. In the case of High Risk, the Data Subject must also be informed.
  • Data Processors: The new law imposes direct compliance obligations on Data Processors and also imposes mandatory contractual requirements.
  • Data Protection Officers: Some businesses will have to appoint a DPOdepending on whether they conduct High Risk Processing Activities.


Like GDPR, DPL2020 is enforced by a regulator; The Commissioner of Data Protection who has power, amongst other sanctions, to issue administrative fines for breaches.
The maximum fine is 100,000 US dollars. The DIFC Courts may also require a business to pay compensation directly to Data Subjects.

In addition, aggrieved Data Subjects but can sue for compensation which is not subject to a cap. The Commissioner can also bring a compensation claims on behalf of Data Subjects who have suffered material harm and who are disadvantaged in their ability to bring their own claim.

What Next?

Businesses in the DIFC have four months before DPL2020 is fully enforced. Considering that those covered by GDPR had four years, this is not a long period. Now is the time to put systems and processes 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:

  1. Raising awareness about DPL2020 at all levels. Our  GDPR e learning course  can be tailored for frontline staff.
  2. Carrying out a data audit and reviewing how records management and information risk  is addressed.
  3. Reviewing information security policies and procedures in the light of the new more stringent security obligations particularly  breach notification.
  4. Revising  privacy policies  in the light of the more prescriptive transparency requirements.
  5. Writing policies and procedures to deal with new and revised Data Subject rights such as  Data Portability  and  Subject Access.
  6. Appointing and training a  Data Protection Officer.

Act Now Training can help your businesses prepare for DPL2020. We have an international reputation in delivering data protection law training  and consultancy.
In 2018 Ibrahim Hasan  travelled to Dubai to deliver a  GDPR workshop  for international businesses and their advisers based in the Middle East. A wide range of delegates attended including representatives of the telecommunications, legal and technology sectors.
We have also trained officials from the Government of Brunei on data protection audits.

Our GDPR Practitioner Certificate is ideal for new DPOs and is available as an online DIFC option. We can also deliver customised in house training both remotely and face to face. Please get in touch to discuss you training needs.

Act Now is pleased to announce that we have developed a training programme for those who need to learn about the new DIFC DP law. This includes a specific DIFC DPO Certificate, DIFC One Day Course and DIFC Foundation Certificate covering all the basic aspects of Information Governance.

Ibrahim Hasan will also be running the DPL2020 webinar in August where he will cover the most important aspects of the new legislation. The webinar is free for DIFC based businesses as well UK businesses doing trading in the UAE and their legal advisers. 

As data protection goes global, if you need a general awareness of the law and its implementation around the world we have a webinar in July.


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