The New Saudi Arabian Federal Data Protection Law 


The Middle East is fast catching up with Europe when it comes to data protection law. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia(KSA) has enacted its first comprehensive national data protection law to regulate the processing of personal data. This is an important development alongside the passing of the new UAE Federal DP law. It also opens up opportunities for UK and EU Data Protection professionals especially as these new laws are closely aligned with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK GDPR

The KSA Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) was passed by Royal Decree M/19 of 9/2/1443H on 16 September 2021, approving Resolution No. 98 dated 7/2/1443H (14 September 2021). The detailed Executive Regulations are expected to be published soon and will give more details about the new law. It will be effective from 23rd March 2022 following which there will be a one year implementation period.

Enforcement 

PDPL will initially be enforced by the Saudi Arabian Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA).The Executive Regulations will set out the administrate penalties that can be imposed on organisations for breaches. Expect large fines for non-compliance alongside other sanctions. PDPL could mirror the GDPR which allows the regulator to impose a fine of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of gross annual turnover, whichever is higher. PDPL also contains criminal offences which carry a term of imprisonment up to 2 years and/or a fine of up to 3 million Saudi Royals (approximately £566,000). Affected parties may also be able to claim compensation.

Territorial Scope

PDPL applies to all organisations that are processing personal data in the KSA irrespective of whether the data relates to Data Subjects living in the KSA. It also has an “extra-territorial” reach by applying to organisations based abroad who are processing personal data of Data Subjects resident in the KSA. Interestingly, unlike the UAE Federal DP law, PDPL does not exempt government authorities from its application although there are various exemptions from certain obligations where the data processing relates to national security, crime detection, statutory purposes etc.

Notable Provisions

PDPL mirrors GDPR’s underlying principles of transparency and accountability and empowers Data Subjects by giving them rights in relation to their personal data. We set out below the notable provisions including links to previous GDPR blog posts for readers wanting more detail, although more information about the finer points of the new law will be included in the forthcoming Executive Regulations. 

  • Personal Data – PDPL applies to the processing of personal data which is defined very broadly to include any data which identifies a living individual. However, unlike GDPR, Article 2 of PDPL includes within its scope, the data of a deceased person if it identifies them or a family member.
  • Registration  Article 23 requires Data Controllers (organisations that collect personal data and determine the purpose for which it is used and the method of processing) to register on an electronic portal that will form a national record of controllers. 
  • Lawful Bases – Like the UAE Federal DP law, PDPL makes consent the primary legal basis for processing personal data. There are exceptions including, amongst others, if the processing achieves a “definite interest” of the Data Subject and it is impossible or difficult to contact the Data Subject.
  • Rights – Data Subjects are granted various rights in Articles 4,5 and 7 of the PDPL which will be familiar to GDPR practitioners. These include the right to information (similar to Art 13 of GDPR), rectification, erasure and  Subject Access. All these rights are subject to similar exemptions found in Article 23 of GDPR.
  • Impact Assessments – Article 22 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 20 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.
  • Records Management – Organisations will have to demonstrate compliance with PDPL by keeping records. There is a specific requirement in Article 3 to keep records similar to a Record of Processing Activities(ROPA) under GDPR.
  • International Transfers – Like other data protection regimes PDPL  imposes limitations on the international transfer of personal data outside of the KSA. . There are exceptions; further details will be set out in the Executive Regulations.
  • Data Protection Officers – Organisations (both controllers and processors) will need to appoint at least one officer to be responsible for compliance with PDPL. The DPO can be an employee or an independent service provider and does not need to be located in the KSA. 
  • Training – After 23 March 2022, Data Controllers will be required to hold seminars for their employees to familiarise them with the new law.

Practical Steps

Organisations operating in the KSA, as well as those who are processing the personal data of KSA residents, need to assess the impact of PDPL on their data processing activities. Work needs to start now to implement systems and processes 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. Training the organisation’s management team to understand the importance of PDPL, the main provisions and changes required to systems and processes. 
  2. Training staff at all levels to understand PDPL at how it will impact on their role.
  3. Carrying out a data audit to understand what personal data is held, where it sits and how it is processed.
  4. Reviewing how records management and information risk  is addressed within the organisation.
  5. Drafting Privacy Notices to ensure they set out the minimum information that should be included.
  6. Reviewing information security policies and procedures in the light of the new more stringent security obligations particularly breach notification.
  7. Draft policies and procedures to deal with Data Subjects’ rights particularly requests for subject access, rectification and erasure.
  8. Appointing and training a Data Protection Officer.

Act Now Training can help your organisation prepare for PDPL. We are running a webinar on this topic soon and can also deliver more detailed in house training. Please get in touch to discuss you training needs. We are in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from 16th to 21st January 2022 and would be happy to arrange a meeting.

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