How the Remote Workforce Impacts GDPR and CCPA Compliance

By John Patzakis
April 14, 2020

While our personal and business lives will hopefully return to normal soon, COVID-19 is only accelerating the trend of an increasingly remote and distributed workforce. This “new normal” will necessitate relying on the latest technology and updated workflows to comply with legal, privacy, and information governance requirements, including the GDPR and similar US-based laws.

A core requirement of both the GDPR and the similar California Consumer Privacy Act is the ability to demonstrate and prove that personal data is being protected, thus requiring information governance capabilities that allow companies to efficiently identify and remediate personal data of EU and California residents. For instance, the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO) provides that “The GDPR places a high expectation on you to provide information in response to a SAR (Subject Access Request). Whilst it may be challenging, you should make extensive efforts to find and retrieve the requested information.”[1]

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Under the GDPR, there is no distinction between structured versus unstructured electronic data in terms of the regulation’s scope. The key consideration is whether a data controller or processor has control over personal data, regardless of where it is located in the organization.

The UK ICO, a key government regulator that interprets and enforces the GDPR, recently issued important draft guidance on the scope of GDPR data subject access rights, including as it relates to unstructured electronic information. Notably, the ICO notes that “emails stored on your computer are a form of electronic record to which the general principles (under the GDPR) apply.” In fact, the ICO notes that home computers and personal email accounts of employees are subject to GDPR if they contain personal data originating from the employers networks or processing activities.[2]


The California Attorney General released second and presumably final round draft regulations under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) that reflect how unstructured electronic data will be treated under the Act.[3] The proposed rules outline how the California AG is interpreting and will be enforcing the CCPA. Under § 999.313(d)(2) data from archived or backup systems are —unlike the GDPR— exempt from the CCPA’s scope, unless those archives are restored and become active: “A business shall comply with a consumer’s request to delete their personal information by: a. Permanently and completely erasing the personal information on its existing systems with the exception of archived or back-up systems.”

What is very notable is that the only technical exception to the CCPA is unrestored archived and back-up data. Like the GDPR, there is no distinction between unstructured and structured electronic data. The CCPA guidance broadly provides that companies must permanently delete personal information from their “existing systems.” In the first round of public comments, an insurance industry lobbying group argued that unstructured data be exempted from the CCPA. As reflected by revised guidance, that suggestion was rejected by the California Attorney General.

Further to this point, AMLaw 100 firm Davis Wright Tremaine provides public guidance on the CCPA as follows: “Access requests may be easier for companies that maintain databases, but most companies also collect unstructured data (such as emails, images, files, etc.) related to consumers. Given that ‘personal information’ includes any information capable of being associated with a consumer or a household, requests will encompass a wide range of data that a business possesses.”[4]

So to achieve GDPR and CCPA compliance, organizations must ensure not only that explicit policies and procedures are in place for handling personal information, but also the ability to prove that those policies and procedures are being followed and operationally enforced. The new normal of remote workforces is a critical challenge that must be addressed.

What has always been needed is gaining immediate visibility into unstructured distributed data across the enterprise, including on laptops and other unstructured data maintained by remote workforces, through the ability to search and report across several thousand endpoints and other unstructured data sources, and return results within minutes instead of days or weeks. The need for such an operational capability provided by best practices technology is further heightened by the urgency of CCPA and GDPR compliance.

Solving this collection challenge is X1 Distributed Discovery, which is specially designed to address the challenges presented by remote and distributed workforces.  X1 Distributed Discovery (X1DD) enables enterprises to quickly and easily search across up to thousands of distributed endpoints and data servers from a central location.  Legal and compliance teams can easily perform unified complex searches across both unstructured content and metadata, obtaining statistical insight into the data in minutes, and full results with completed collection in hours, instead of days or weeks.

To learn more about this capability purpose-built for remote eDiscovery collection and data audits, please contact us.



[2] Id.