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Can We Apply Similar Controls to Satisfy Both GLBA and GDPR?

Hey Guru!

Are the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLBA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) similar enough to apply the same or equivalent set of layered controls? My understanding is that GDPR has placed a higher premium on the protection of a narrower definition of data. So, my question is more about whether FFIEC requirements for the protection of data extends equally to both Confidential PII and the narrow data type called out by GDPR.


Hi Steve, and thanks for the question! Comparing Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLBA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is instructive as they both try to address the same challenge; privacy and security. Specifically, protecting information shared between a customer and a service provider. GLBA is specific to financial institutions, while GDPR defines a “data processor” as any third-party that processes personal data. However, they both have a very similar definition of the protected data. GDPR uses the term “personal data” as any information that relates to an individual who can be directly or indirectly identified, and GLBA uses the term non-public personal information (or NPI) to describe the same type of data.

To answer the question of whether the two are similar enough to apply the same or similar set of layered controls, my short answer is since using layering controls is a risk mitigation strategy best practice, it would apply equally to both.

Here’s a bit more. The most important distinction between GLBA and GDPR is that GLBA has two sections; 501(a) and 501(b). The former establishes the right to privacy and the obligation that financial institutions must protect the security and confidentiality of customer NPI. 501(b) empowers the regulators to require FI’s to establish safeguards to protect against any threats to NPI. Simply put, 501(a) is the “what”, and 501(b) is the “how”. Of course, the “how” has given us the 12 FFIEC IT Examination Handbooks, cybersecurity regulations, PEN tests, the IT audit, and lots of other stuff with no end in sight.

By contrast, GDPR is more focused on “what” (what a third-party can and can’t do with customer data, as well what the customer can control; i.e. right to have their data deleted, etc.) and much less on the “how” it is supposed to be done.

My understanding is that the scope of GLBA (and all the information security standards based thereon) is strictly limited to customer NPI, it does not expend to confidential or PII. One distinguishing factor between NPI and PII is that in US regulations NPI always refers to the “customer”, and PII always refers to the “consumer”. (Frankly there isn’t really any difference between data obtained from a customer or consumer by a financial institution during the process of either pursuing or maintaining a business relationship.) We have always taken the position that for the purposes of data classification, NPI and confidential (PII) data share the same level of sensitivity, but guidance is only concerned about customer NPI. GDPR does not make that distinction.

In my opinion, our federal regulations will move towards merging NPI and PII, and in fact some states are already there. So, although it’s not strictly a requirement to protect anything other than NPI, it’s certainly a best practice, and combining both NPI and PII / confidential data in the same data sensitivity classification will do that.

One last thought about enforcement… So far, we have not heard of US regulators checking US based FI’s for GDPR compliance, but since our community-based financial institutions have very little EU exposure, your experience may be different.