Who Must Maintain a Record of Processing Activities? (Full Guide)

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Not sure if your business needs to maintain a record of data processing activities? We’ve got you covered.

The surge of modern privacy laws has brought on new compliance responsibilities for businesses, one of which includes keeping a Record of Processing Activities or RoPA.

Naturally, this raises the question: Who must maintain a record of processing activities?

This article will clarify the who, what, and why of RoPA requirements to help you tackle your compliance duties effectively and avoid penalties.

Let’s dive right in!

Key Takeaways

  • Under Article 30, the GDPR requires organizations that meet specific criteria to maintain a RoPA. Keeping this document, even when not legally required, comes with many benefits.
  • Data controllers and processors who have at least 250 employees, engage in regular or high-risk data processing, or handle sensitive data must maintain a RoPA to ensure GDPR compliance.
  • Keeping your RoPA up-to-date is vital to protect your business interests, build trust with stakeholders, and ensure you’re well-prepared for the ever-evolving data privacy landscape.

Does My Business Need to Maintain a RoPA?

The short answer is: it depends.

A RoPA is a living document that comprehensively describes a business’s data processing activities and other essential information. The legal requirement to maintain a RoPA depends on several key factors, as we’ll see in the next section.

To determine if your business must maintain a RoPA, the first thing you’ll need to consider is your legal jurisdiction.

Currently, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most significant data privacy law that requires businesses to maintain a RoPA.

While other laws like Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) and Switzerland’s New Federal Act on Data Protection (nFADP) also require RoPAs, their requirements aren’t as comprehensive.

In other words, adhering to the GDPR’s RoPA standards will keep you compliant with the ROPA requirements of other privacy laws.

Even if your business isn’t legally required to maintain a RoPA, keeping this document is advisable to help you:

  • Display transparent data processing practices
  • Identify and manage privacy vulnerabilities
  • Streamline compliance efforts

Ultimately, whether it’s legally required or not, maintaining a RoPA is a smart move in today’s data-driven world. It protects your business, enhances your reputation, and offers profound insights about your data flows.

Who Must Maintain a Record of Processing Activities?

Under Article 30 of the GDPR, data controllers and processors with 250 or more employees must maintain a RoPA.

If your business doesn’t employ up to 250 employees, you aren’t fully exempt. You must still maintain a ROPA if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • Your processing activities are likely to pose a high risk to data subjects’ rights and freedoms
  • Your processing activities are not occasional
  • You process personal data relating to criminal convictions and offenses
  • You process special categories of personal data (also known as sensitive personal information). These are personal data that reveal any of the following:
    • Racial/ethnic origin
    • Health condition
    • Trade union membership
    • Religious/philosophical beliefs
    • Sexual orientation
    • Political opinions
    • Biometrics
    • Genetics

Data Controllers vs. Data Processor

The GDPR classifies businesses into Data Controllers and Data Processors based on their functions in handling personal data. Let’s briefly unpack their differences:

  • Data Controller: If your organization determines the purposes and means of processing personal data, you are considered a data controller. This role often applies to businesses that collect and use customer data for marketing, sales, or analytics.
  • Data Processor: If your organization processes data on behalf of a data controller, you are a data processor. This role is common among service providers, cloud hosting companies, or any entity handling data as a data controller instructs.

To put this in context, if a company collects customer data to send marketing emails, the company is the controller. If the company uses a third-party service like MailChimp to send emails, then MailChimp is the processor.

What Information Should a Record of Processing Activities Contain?

A well-structured RoPA is not just a compliance requirement; it’s a roadmap for data protection in your organization. As a controller or processor, knowing what information to include in your RoPA is essential.

Under Article 30, the GDPR sets out the most important information controllers and processors must include in their RoPA.

Let’s break it down:

For Data Controllers

  1. Identification Details: Include your organization’s name and contact information and (if applicable) details of your representatives and data protection officer (DPO).
  2. Data Processing Purposes: Clearly state why you collect and process personal data. Whether it’s for customer relationship management, marketing, or HR purposes, be specific.
  3. Categories of Data Subjects and Personal Data: List the classes of individuals whose data you process. This could include customers, employees, website visitors, etc. Also, detail the types of personal and sensitive data you collect—for instance, names, email addresses, health records, financial information, etc.
  4. Categories of Data Recipients: Outline the types of third parties with whom you may share personal data, including recipients in other countries or regions. Practically speaking, you’ll likely share data with business partners, analytics providers, advertising agencies, etc.
  5. Data Transfers: Specify if you transfer personal data internationally and outline the appropriate safeguards you have in place, such as the EU-U.S. Data Privacy Framework, Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs), Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs), etc.
  6. Data Retention Periods: Explain how long you retain data and the criteria used to determine retention periods. Note that this should align with your business needs and legal requirements.
  7. Data Security Measures: Describe the technical and organizational security measures you have in place to protect personal data.

Technical security measures typically include data encryption, access controls, firewalls, multi-factor authentication, etc. In contrast, organizational security measures include physical security, crisis management action plans, privacy by design, employee training, etc.

For Data Processors

  1. Identification Details: Provide your company’s information, contact information, and relevant details of the controller(s) on whose behalf you process data. Also, highlight your representatives and data protection officers (DPOs), if applicable.
  2. Categories of Data Processing: Enumerate the types of personal data you handle on behalf of controllers, such as customer contact information or employee records, and highlight the processing activities you perform on these data types.
  3. Data Transfers: Specify if you transfer data outside the EU/EEA (e.g., to sub-processors) and detail any transfer mechanism in place, such as SCCs, BCRs, etc.
  4. Data Security Measures: Explain the security measures you implement to protect personal data, such as encryption, access controls, data backups, regular security assessments, etc.

Note: The list above doesn’t stop you from including other relevant information in your ROPA. That being said, you shouldn’t overload your ROPA with unnecessary details. It should be well-organized and easy to understand.

Is It Important to Maintain a RoPA?

Maintaining a comprehensive and accurate RoPA is essential for responsible data management.

Here are the most significant reasons you should maintain a RoPA and keep it up-to-date:

Reflect Current Practices

Your data processing activities can change over time. By maintaining a RoPA, you ensure that it accurately reflects your current data practices. This helps you avoid potential compliance gaps.

For instance, if your company expands its data processing for new marketing initiatives, your RoPA should reflect these changes to maintain compliance.

Compliance with the Law

Regulatory frameworks like the GDPR and LGPD require businesses to maintain a RoPA as a legal obligation. Failing to do so can result in significant penalties.

To push that point home, consider the fact that organizations that fail to comply with the GDPR’s RoPA requirement under Article 30 may face fines of up to €10 million or 2% of their global annual revenue.


A well-maintained RoPA demonstrates your commitment to transparent data processing. It builds trust with customers, partners, and data protection authorities by showing that you take data protection seriously.

Accuracy in Reporting to Authorities

In the event of a data breach, you may need to report to regulatory authorities promptly. An accurate RoPA streamlines this process, helping you meet reporting deadlines and minimize potential penalties.

Efficient Response to DSARs

Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs) are on the rise. When customers request access to their personal data, an up-to-date RoPA can help you pinpoint where exactly their data is stored for a quicker response.

Risk Mitigation

A comprehensive RoPA helps identify potential data privacy risks and vulnerabilities in your organization. With these insights, you can proactively address privacy issues and reduce the likelihood of data breaches and associated damages.

For instance, regularly reviewing your RoPA may reveal outdated security measures that need to be upgraded.

How to Maintain a Record of Processing Activities

Maintaining a RoPA is an ongoing commitment to data privacy and regulatory compliance.

Here are seven best practices to help you effectively maintain your RoPA:

Identify What Needs to Be Documented

Start by comprehensively documenting your data processing activities. This includes understanding the types of data you collect, why you process it, who has access, and where it’s stored.

For example, if you run a retail business, you’ll want to document customer data collection during purchases, marketing email campaigns, and inventory management.

Regularly Review and Update

Data processing practices can change over time due to business growth or evolving regulations. Schedule regular reviews (e.g., quarterly or annually) to ensure your RoPA remains accurate and reflects your current operations.

For instance, if you expand your product line, you must update your RoPA to include the new data processing activities related to these products.

Use a GDPR Compliance Solution

Outsourcing compliance to a top-tier GDPR compliance solution can help you meet your RoPA obligations efficiently. Leading software providers like Captain Compliance can help streamline the documentation process and provide templates for easy updates.

Selecting a compliance solution that also offers automated alerts for RoPA updates is a wise move for the most effective outcomes.

Train Employees

Your employees need to understand their roles and responsibilities regarding data protection. You can ensure this by conducting regular training sessions to keep them informed about changes in data processing practices.

Document Changes

Whenever there is a change in your data processing activities, document it promptly in your RoPA. Include details about what changed, why, and how it impacts data protection.

For instance, if you change your marketing analytics tool, your RoPA must reflect the new tool’s data processing activities.

Data Retention Policies

As mandated under Article 30 of the GDPR, you must clearly define and document data retention periods in your RoPA. The goal is to strike a balance between the GDPR’s storage limitation principle and your business needs.

For instance, if you previously retained customer data for five years but now find that two years is sufficient, update your RoPA accordingly.

Internal Audits

Conduct internal audits to verify that your RoPA accurately reflects your data processing activities and that compliance measures are in place.

You can assign an internal auditor to periodically review your RoPA against your actual practices to identify any discrepancies.

What’s Next?

Now that you’re clear on who must maintain a RoPA, it’s time to take action. At Captain Compliance, we’re committed to helping you navigate the intricate world of data protection compliance effectively.

Here’s how we can assist you in your next steps:

  • RoPA assessment and guidance
  • Developing systems for regular RoPA updates
  • Comprehensive GDPR compliance solutions

Compliance is a multifaceted task—and we’re re to ease your burden, ensuring your privacy obligations are met, and your business is defended against risks and penalties.

Your data privacy journey starts here. Get in touch today!


Do small businesses need to maintain a Record of Processing Activities (RoPA)?

Yes, even small businesses may be required to maintain a RoPA. It depends on factors like the type of data you process and where your business operates. If you handle personal data, especially from EU residents, or if you process sensitive information, compliance may be necessary.

Learn more about our Compliance Services

How often should I update my RoPA?

Regular updates are essential. Review your RoPA whenever there are changes in your data processing activities, organizational structure, or data protection regulations. Aim for at least an annual review to ensure ongoing compliance.

Gain insights on GDPR Compliance Requirements 

Can I use templates or software to create my RoPA?

Absolutely. Many GDPR compliance solutions offer templates and tools to help you create and maintain your RoPA efficiently. Leveraging these resources can help simplify the process and minimize risks.

Notably, several National Data Protection Authorities offer templates to help businesses jumpstart their RoPA documentation. Examples include:

Check out our GDPR Privacy Policy Template

Is it advisable to maintain a RoPA even if not legally required?

Yes, it is. Even if your applicable regulations don’t mandate it, a RoPA demonstrates your commitment to data privacy. It also helps build trust with customers and manage data processing activities effectively.

See also: Data Compliance Solutions

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