Understanding the Essential Clauses in a Data Processing Agreement (DPA)

by Ethan Roberts
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Protect Data, Secure Agreements, Guarantee Compliance

Journal Press: In this digital era, data is often referred to as the new currency. With thousands of companies dealing with vast amounts of data exchange, it is crucial to have adequate security measures in place to protect this valuable information. One such measure is a Data Processing Agreement (DPA), which addresses data security, breaches, and misuse. In this article, we will explore the essential clauses that should be included in a Data Processing Agreement (DPA) to ensure compliance and safeguard personal data.

Data Processing Agreement (DPA)

Data Processing Agreement (DPA)

1. Definitions – Clarifying the Key Terms

To avoid any ambiguity, a Data Processing Agreement (DPA) should include definitions of important terms such as Applicable Laws, Client, Client Personal Data, Contractor, EU Data Protection Laws, GDPR, Restricted Transfer, Services, Subprocessor, Controller, Data Subject, Member State, Personal Data, Personal Data Breach, Processing, Processor, Rights of Data Subjects, and Supervisory Authority.

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2. Data Subject – Identifying Those Covered by the DPA

The Data Processing Agreement (DPA) should clearly define who falls under its jurisdiction. In the case of European Union residents whose personal data has been collected, they would be considered data subjects.

3. Personal Data Breach – Safeguarding Against Unauthorized Access

This clause addresses any unauthorized use, access, loss, disclosure, or alteration of client personal data on the systems managed by the processor. It emphasizes the importance of preventing security breaches.

4. Applicability – Adhering to Data Protection Requirements

To ensure compliance with relevant data protection laws such as GDPR, the Data Processing Agreement (DPA) should state that both parties strive to fulfill their respective obligations under applicable data protection requirements.

5. Effective Date and Termination Date – Clear Timeframes for Agreement

This clause specifies the effective date and the end date of the Data Processing Agreement (DPA), which could be any date after May 25, 2018, when the GDPR came into force.

6. Processing of Client Personal Data – Defining the Scope

This clause outlines the specific activities involved in processing personal data. It encompasses data collection, recording, organization, storage, retrieval, analysis, consultation, disclosure, and more. It provides a clear understanding of how data will be handled.

7. Roles and Responsibilities of a Controller – Setting the Guidelines

The controller determines the means and purposes of processing personal data. This clause highlights the controller’s specific roles and responsibilities under GDPR, including obtaining consent, implementing security measures, and determining data retention policies.

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8. Roles and Responsibilities of a Processor – Acting on Behalf of the Controller

The processor processes personal data on behalf of the controller and follows documented instructions. This clause emphasizes the processor’s obligation to comply with applicable laws, maintain confidentiality, assist in investigations, and notify the controller of any data breaches.

9. Organization and Security Measures (O&Ms) – Ensuring Data Protection

This clause lists the organizational and technical measures the processor will implement to protect client personal data. It may include vulnerability testing, data loss prevention solutions, encryption practices, and antivirus solutions.

10. Subprocessing – Addressing Third-Party Involvement

If the processor plans to engage subprocessors, this clause requires the approval of the controller. It also includes restrictions and obligations imposed on subprocessors to protect client personal data.

11. Data Transfers – Securing Cross-Border Data Flows

If the processing involves transferring client personal data to a third country outside the European Economic Area or UK, this clause requires prior written consent. It also states that parties should rely on EU-approved Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) for such transfers.

12. Deletion and Return of Data – Ensuring Proper Disposal

This clause outlines the obligations regarding the deletion or return of data after the Data Processing Agreement (DPA) ends. Both parties should agree on the procedures and timelines for the secure disposal or return of client personal data.


As the importance of data protection and privacy continues to grow, the inclusion of essential clauses in a Data Processing Agreement becomes paramount. By addressing definitions, data subjects, breaches, roles and responsibilities, security measures, subprocessors, data transfers, and data deletion, an effective Data Processing Agreement (DPA) can ensure compliance and instill trust in the handling of personal data.

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