The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has published its first-ever comprehensive data protection law. The Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) aims to protect individuals’ personal data privacy and regulate organisations’ collection, processing, disclosure, or retention of personal data.
The PDPL provides comprehensive requirements related to processing principles, data subjects’ rights, organisations’ obligations while processing the personal data of individuals, and cross-border data transfer mechanisms, and lays out penalties for organisations in case of non-compliance with the PDPL.
One of the prominent features of the PDPL is that it does not prejudice any provision that grants a right to the data subject or stipulates better protection in any other law or an international convention to which Saudi Arabia is a party.
Furthermore, the Saudi data protection regulatory authority, the SDAIA in collaboration with the National Data Management Office (NDMO) issued a draft version of the Executive Regulations on 10 March 2022.
The PDPL comes into force on September 2023 and companies will have one year to cover all PDPL compliance roles and regulations.
1. Who Needs to Comply with the Law
Here’s how the new law applies to organisations based on their jurisdiction as well as the kind of data involved:
a. Material Scope
The PDPL applies to the processing of personal data and sensitive personal data related to individuals residing in Saudi Arabia. The PDPL also covers the deceased’s personal data, if it would lead to identifying the deceased or one of his/her family members specifically. The PDPL excludes the processing of personal data for domestic purposes from its application scope.
b. Territorial Scope
The PDPL applies to public or private organisations that process personal data related to individuals in Saudi Arabia by any means. If a foreign organisation processes personal data related to individuals residing in Saudi Arabia, then the PDPL will also apply.
The PDPL provides several obligations for the controlling authorities (data controllers). Before processing personal data, the data controllers (organisations) are required to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and relevancy of the personal data. The controlling authorities must also fulfil data protection principles (collection limitation, purpose limitation, data security, accountability, retention limitation, etc.).
Following are the critical obligations provided under the PDPL that organisations must oblige to stay compliant:
a. Consent Requirements
The PDPL requires that organisations not process personal data without the consent of its owner except for the cases stipulated under the Draft Regulation.
Data subjects may withdraw their consent to the processing of personal data at any time, and consent must not be a prerequisite for the data controller to offer a service or benefit (unless the service or benefit is specifically related to the processing activity for which consent is obtained).
The PDPL provides that consent is not required in the following scenarios:
- If the processing would achieve a clear benefit and it is impossible or impractical to contact the data subject.
- If it is required by law or prior agreement to which the data subject is a party.
- If the controller is a public entity and the processing is required for security or judicial purposes,
- If the controller is collecting data for scientific, research, or statistical purposes while having taken the necessary steps stipulated within the law.
Organisations subject to PDPL must register on an electronic portal that will form a national record of controlling authorities. Organisations will also have to pay annual registration fees that will be decided in due course.
Organisations that operate outside Saudi Arabia and process the personal data of Saudi residents must appoint a representative in Saudi Arabia that the regulatory authority can resort to regarding compliance with the applicable laws.
Organisations must – in the case of collecting personal data directly from data subjects – use adequate means to inform data subjects of the following elements before starting to collect their data:
- The valid legal or practical justification for collecting their personal data;
- The purpose of collecting their personal data, and whether collecting all or some of it is mandatory or optional, and informing them also that their data will not be processed later in
a manner inconsistent with the purpose of its collection or in cases other than those stipulated in the PDPL.
- The identity of the person collecting the personal data and the address of their reference when necessary, unless the collection is for security purposes;
- The organisation(s) to which the personal data will be disclosed, its/their capacity, and whether the personal data will be transferred, disclosed, or processed outside the Kingdom;
- Possible effects and dangers of not completing the personal data collection procedure;
- Data subject rights; and
- The regulations determine other elements according to the nature of the activity practised by the organisation.
d. Security Requirements
The PDPL requires organisations to take the necessary organisational, administrative, and technical measures and means to ensure the preservation of personal data, including when it is transferred, per the provisions and controls specified by the Draft Regulations.
e. Data Breach Requirements
The PDPL requires that organisations notify the regulatory authority no later than 72 hours after first becoming aware of a data breach. Furthermore, the data controller must provide the regulatory authority with a detailed analysis of the breach and what steps are being taken to ensure such an incident is not repeated.
Additionally, if the data breach puts the data subjects’ personal data at significant risk, the data controller must inform them promptly. The controller must also communicate the contact details of the relevant DPO the data subjects can contact to know more about what data has been compromised.
f. Data Protection Officer Requirement
The PDPL provides that organisations are required to appoint a person (or several persons) to be responsible for implementing the provisions of the PDPL.
g. Data Protection Impact Assessment
The PDPL mandates organisations to conduct an assessment of the consequences of processing personal data for any product or service provided to the public according to the nature of their processing activities.
h. Record of Processing Activities
Under the PDPL, organisations must keep records of their processing activities and for a period determined by the Draft Regulation. The records should include a minimum of the following data:
- Contact details of the organisation.
- The purpose of processing personal data.
- A description of the categories of data subjects.
- Any party to which personal data has been (or will be) disclosed.
- Whether personal data has been (or will be) transferred outside Saudi Arabia or disclosed to a party outside Saudi Arabia, and
- The period of time that it is expected the personal data will be kept.
i. Vendor Assessment/Third-Party Processing Requirements
The PDPL provides that organisations – when choosing the processing party – must choose an entity that provides the necessary guarantees for enforcing the provisions of the PDPL and must constantly verify such entity’s compliance with its instructions in all matters relating to the protection of personal data.
j. Cross-border data transfer Requirements
Saudi Arabia’s data protection law strictly stipulates that a cross-border data transfer may only take place unless a strict impact assessment has been carried out to evaluate just how secure the external location is. Additionally, written consent from the regulatory authority is also required.
Other exceptions include the following:
- The transfer of data is vital to the public interest;
- The transfer of data is extremely necessary to save the Data Subject’s life outside the Kingdom.
3. Data Subject Rights
Like most other data protection regulations globally, the PDPL ensures that all data subjects are guaranteed certain rights. These rights, known as data subject rights, ensure that all users retain control over their data once it has been collected. Different data protection laws offer various different kinds of data subject rights. The ones guaranteed by the PDPL include the following:
Right To Know/Information
Data subjects have the right to know about the data controller’s contact details, the exact reason the data is being collected, the methods being used for data collection, and whether this collected data will be shared or sold.
Right To Request Access Or Copy
Data subjects have the right to access their personal data from the organisation and obtain a copy of it in a clear and readable format, in conformity with the content of the records, at no cost.
Right To Request Correction
Data subjects have the right to request correction of any data collected on them if it is incomplete, inaccurate, or obsolete.
Right To Request Destruction
Data subjects have the right to request the destruction of data collected on them. The reasons can range from the user rescinding their consent for data collection to the data no longer serving the purpose for which it was collected.
Right To Limit/Restriction Of Processing
Data subjects have the right to limit or refuse the processing of their personal information by the organisation for special cases and for a limited period of time. This right is not explicitly provided under the PDPL, however, the regulatory authority has released a set of FAQs that provides details of this right.
The data controller is required to ensure that all data subjects are appropriately informed about these rights and establish dedicated channels for data subjects to exercise these rights. The data controller must fulfil these requests within 30 days and record all data subject requests received.
4. Regulatory Authority
The Saudi Data & Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) will be the primary body responsible for enforcing the PDPL within Saudi borders. More than just levying penalties on organisations found in violation of the PDPL, the SDAIA is also expected to advise organisations in internal data transfers and keep track of data subject rights requests received by organisations, among other responsibilities.
However, the Saudi Data & Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) will supervise the implementation of the new legislation for only the first two years. A transfer of supervision to the National Data Management Office (NDMO) will be considered in 2024.
5. Penalties for Non-compliance
The PDPL provides that the penalty for disclosing or publishing sensitive personal data may include imprisonment for up to two years and/or a fine not exceeding SAR 3 million ($800,000); both organisations and individuals can therefore be sanctioned.
For violating the cross-border data transfer requirements, there may be imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine not exceeding SAR 1 million ($267,000). For violations of other provisions of the PDPL, penalties are limited to a warning notice or a fine not exceeding SAR 5 million ($1.3 million). The court may double the penalty of the fine in case of repetition of offences.
6. How an Organisation Can Operationalise the Law
Organisations will be required to adjust their status per provisions of the PDPL within a period not exceeding one year from the date that it becomes effective.
- Catalogue their data inventories and classify sensitive personal data and personal data.
- Assess whether they need to appoint a representative in Saudi Arabia.
- Register themself within Saudi Arabia.
- Disclose how personal data is being processed through transparent formal policies and privacy notices.
- Develop formal policies and procedures for data collection (consent framework etc.) and processing, and update privacy policies as needed.
- Have robust data breach notification mechanisms in place.
- Map their processes and discover cross-border data flows from Saudi Arabia to other countries, and fulfil strict cross-border requirements under the PDPL.
- Have a comprehensive data subject requests framework in place.
- Develop the capability to scan and track data processing activity and produce ROPA reports for compliance.
- Have technical and organisational security measures in place to protect their processing activities and
- Conduct personal information protection impact assessments, vendor assessments, and other risk assessments.