The Data Retention Policy: What It Is and How to Create One

Batja Huisman
Batja Huisman
Jan 10, 2022
min read
The Data Retention Policy: What It Is and How to Create One

What is a data retention policy, how is it relevant to regulations like the GDPR, and what does the process of creating a data retention policy entail? Read more to find out.

Under the GDPR, organizations must refrain from keeping personal information longer than necessary. Data should be removed after fulfilling the purpose for which it was consensually gathered. Even if the information is properly secured and used, the GDPR makes it a violation to hold onto the data for no legitimate reason. The law, however, doesn’t specify precisely how long that is, leaving companies to establish their own data retention policies.

What is a data retention policy?

In their data retention policies, organizations include guidelines that instruct their employees on how long to keep information and how to properly discard the unnecessary information. In some cases, the procedures are accompanied by automation capabilities that turn instructions into actionable rules. 

Data retention policies may include the following details: 

  1. The dates on which the company collected each data item 
  2. The purpose for which the data was collected and processed
  3. The last use of each data item according to its declared purpose
  4. Any applicable regulations based on location and data type
  5. Any database or 3rd party keeping or using the data
  6. When the data should be removed based on date or conditions 
  7. Instructions for the data removal process, including all relevant notifications
  8. Data removal documentation for audit and subject request purposes 

Why do organizations need a data retention policy?

Data retention strategies help businesses manage their data more efficiently to avoid mishaps. We all realize that gathering and keeping a massive amount of information for unknown periods might also take its toll. 

Beyond compliance, the risk and scale of a data breach become much more significant when the organization keeps unnecessary data for years. Unless we actively demand and manage the removal of the data, there’s a good chance that no one at the organization would bother to monitor and handle this part of the process. Another risk is having organizations use the data for other needs that have little if anything, to do with the official purpose they declared and users agreed to. A clear data retention policy also makes it easier for companies to fulfill data subject requests quickly and effectively. In a sense, without a data retention policy, many other GDPR and CCPA requirements become void. By creating a data retention policy, companies spot sensitive or essential data, build a clear process for all stakeholders to follow, and form trust-based relationships with users. 

Data retention best practices: How to create a data retention policy

Creating a data retention policy doesn’t have to be a complex, tedious process. Using it as an opportunity to bring more order into your data management procedures is the right approach. 

  • Gather all the relevant stakeholders from departments such as Legal, Product, Business, and IT. 
  • Collect any relevant data retention policy examples or templates created by well-respected organizations. You still need to update and adjust these documents to make them relevant to your company, but they’ll offer a good starting point. 
  • Collect all the relevant regulations that should be considered, like the GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, etc. Consider adding regulations that are likely to affect your organization in the near future, even if they currently do not apply. 
  • Categorize the data collected by your organizations based on operational priority and information sensitivity. This should make it simple to apply relevant policy rules and avoid painful errors.
  • Work closely with automation experts to turn guidelines into automated actions, such as keeping documented data removal reports in a dedicated file for auditing purposes. Include additional relevant tools and technologies that could make data mapping and retention easier, like Mine for Business. 
  • Ensure that the data retention policy covers different data subject requests, audits, and legal procedures. This will improve the documentation guidelines to help you build a proper archive. 

How Mine for Business supports your data retention policy

The Mine PrivacyOps platform helps companies map and classify data to handle subject requests and other data privacy-related necessities. Our platform’s Data Mapping Tool covers one of the most critical parts of building a data retention strategy. Mapping all the relevant data allows companies to know where they stand and start the retention guidelines process from a better position instantly. Mine PrivacyOps also automates data subject request management, allowing organizations to better monitor and handle requests. 

Whether your company has a data retention policy in place or not, improving this process can make life easier for multiple departments across your organization. Get started with Mine PrivacyOps today and be better prepared for the data privacy needs of tomorrow.