June 17, 2024

Saudi Arabia data sovereignty policies and requirements

Saudi Arabia data sovereignty policies and requirements

As Saudi Arabia ambitiously charts its course toward Vision 2030, the kingdom has introduced robust data sovereignty measures to safeguard its digital assets and citizens and ensure economic resilience.

At the heart of this transformation lies the Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL) of 2021, which underscores Saudi Arabia’s commitment to creating a secure and transparent digital environment. Effective from September 14, 2023, with a compliance grace period until September 14, 2024, this legislation presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses operating within its borders. Non-compliance carries significant risks, including hefty fines of up to $1.3 million and potential imprisonment, emphasizing the critical need for corporate leaders to navigate these regulations adeptly.

For multinational companies, comprehending Saudi Arabia’s data governance framework is not just about compliance—it’s about compliantly operating in one of the world’s most dynamic markets. 

This article will review Saudi Arabia’s data protection laws, especially regarding data sovereignty in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s data sovereignty updates

Before reviewing the updates to Saudi Arabia’s data sovereignty laws, it is essential to understand what data sovereignty means. Data sovereignty refers to the concept that data stored in a particular location is subject to the laws and regulations of that location. For instance, if personal data is collected and stored in Saudi Arabia, it will be governed by the laws outlined in the Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL). 

In line with its Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has established the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) to oversee public consultations on the Data Sovereignty Public Policy draft. This draft aims to set principles for data usage, emphasizing data localization, security, and privacy. It ensures that critical data remains within national borders unless specific conditions permit its transfer.

Recent updates to the PDPL and its implementing regulations offer more precise guidelines on data processing, anonymization, and pseudonymization. These regulations also define the conditions for transferring personal data outside the Kingdom, ensuring that such transfers do not compromise national security or the privacy of data subjects.

The KSA Data Sovereignty policy establishes the kingdom’s commitment to promoting a secure and competitive digital economy. For businesses operating in the region, staying informed about these evolving regulations is crucial for effective market navigation and compliance. To learn more about the PDPL, consider reviewing the similarities and differences between the PDPL and GDPR.

Why is KSA data sovereignty important?

Understanding why the government of Saudi Arabia places a premium on data sovereignty will help you understand why you must take it seriously as a business leader. We shall review a few of these reasons in this section:

  • National security

Generally, governments are more comfortable with sensitive data stored within their borders. The same applies to the KSA government. By insisting that residents’ personal data is stored within national borders, the government can better protect against cyber threats and espionage. Local data storage allows for more effective monitoring and response to potential security breaches, enhancing the country’s overall cybersecurity posture​.

  • Regulatory compliance

Generally, localizing data ensures compliance with national laws and regulations. This compliance is vital for safeguarding citizens’ privacy and ensuring that international companies operating in Saudi Arabia adhere to the Kingdom’s data protection standards.

  • Economic growth and control

Data sovereignty allows Saudi Arabia to control its digital assets, which is crucial for economic growth in a data-driven global economy. By localizing data storage and processing, the Kingdom can boost the development of local data centers, cloud services, and other technological infrastructure, creating jobs and fostering innovation within the country.

  • Trust among residents

Though it may not be obvious, residents’ trust plays a crucial role in driving the digital economy. Data sovereignty helps to enhance residents’ trust by ensuring that their data is properly managed and protected from unauthorized access. This increased confidence encourages the use of digital services and technologies, which in turn will contribute to the growth of the digital economy and support the country in achieving its Vision 2030. This is another reason highlighting the importance of data sovereignty in KSA.

  • Strategic autonomy

By retaining control over its data, Saudi Arabia can achieve strategic autonomy in its digital policy, ensuring alignment with national interests rather than relying on foreign technology providers. This autonomy enables the Kingdom to implement policies that support national priorities, such as technological innovation, economic diversification, and improved public services.

As a business leader, understanding these reasons will show you why compliance with the data sovereignty laws in the KSA is critical. And why should your company take compliance with Saudi Arabia’s data sovereignty policy seriously? This is because of the benefits it offers to all parties.

Key concerns and challenges covering data sovereignty in the KSA

Data sovereignty laws pose challenges internationally, including in KSA. In this section, we will examine key concerns that impact compliance with the data sovereignty requirements of the PDPL.

  • Finding a balance between economic and security considerations

While we appreciate that data localization enhances national security, it also poses an innovation challenge, as it limits the free flow of data. In the long run, overly stringent controls may discourage foreign investment and stifle technological advancement. Furthermore, implementing compliance with data localization comes at a cost for businesses. These expenses include upgrading infrastructure, ensuring data storage within the country, and meeting specific security requirements. This extra cost could be an issue for small businesses and reduce the profit margin for big businesses.

  • Legal complexities

Periodic changes in data protection laws and regulations in Saudi Arabia can create uncertainty for businesses. Companies must continuously adapt to new requirements, a process that can be both resource-intensive and complex. Additionally, defining and interpreting data sovereignty regulations can be challenging. Clear guidelines are critical to prevent legal ambiguities that could result in non-compliance and potential penalties.

  • Technological infrastructure

Saudi Arabia’s technological infrastructure must support the demands of data sovereignty. This involves having adequate data centers, robust cybersecurity measures, and advanced IT capabilities. This is an extra cost that many businesses may be unable to bear.

  • Economic impact

As hinted earlier, small and medium-sized enterprises may find it particularly difficult to comply with data sovereignty regulations due to limited resources. This could hinder their growth and competitiveness ​and slow down the economy in the long term. These strict data localization requirements may also lead to market fragmentation, making it more difficult for businesses to operate seamlessly across borders. Fragmentation may reduce the efficiency and global competitiveness of Saudi businesses.

  • Stringent laws affecting business operations

Balancing data privacy and smooth business operations is often a challenge, as some of these laws affect companies’ business operations. This, in turn, affects their productivity and competitiveness and limits economic growth.

These are some of the major challenges facing KSA’s data sovereignty. By carefully addressing these issues, Saudi Arabia can achieve its Vision 2030 goals while fostering a secure and innovative digital economy.

Saudi Arabia’s data sovereignty requirements

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s (KSA) data sovereignty requirements are primarily governed by the Personal Data Protection Law (PDPL). Introduced in September 2021 and amended in March 2023, the PDPL provides a comprehensive framework for data protection, ensuring the privacy of personal data, regulating data sharing, and preventing data misuse. In this section, we shall review the PDPL as it applies to data sovereignty:

  • Data localization

Under the PDPL, the personal data of individuals within KSA must be processed within the Kingdom. This requires companies to store and process data within Saudi Arabia unless explicit permission is granted to transfer data abroad.

  • Obtaining consent

The PDPL requires organizations to receive the consent of data subjects before collecting or processing their personal information. In obtaining consent, organizations are required to do the following:

  1. Inform individuals about the purpose of data collection.
  2. Indicate whether providing data is mandatory or optional,
  3. Ensuring that data processing aligns with the stated purpose.
  • Data subject rights

Data subject rights here refer to the rights of the residents of KSA, whose data is collected, processed, or stored by companies. The PDPL secures the following rights for data subjects:

  1. The right to access their personal data at any time,
  2. Request corrections,
  3. Withdraw consent for data processing.
  4. Request a permanent erasure of personal data, etc.
  • Data minimization

The PDPL also mandates that data collection should be restricted to what is necessary for the specified purpose, and data must be disposed of once it is no longer required for that purpose. That is, companies are only allowed to collect as much data as required to execute the purpose of the data collection. Such personal data must be deleted as soon as the purpose is achieved. Exceptions may apply if the data has been anonymized, if there’s a legal obligation to retain it, or if it’s pertinent to ongoing legal proceedings.

  • Security measures

Organizations are required to implement strong security measures to safeguard personal data from unauthorized access, breaches, and other potential risks. This entails keeping records of data processing activities and conducting Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) for processing activities deemed high-risk, etc.

  • Regulatory compliance

The implementation of the PDPL is overseen by the Saudi Data & Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA). Organizations must register with SDAIA and adhere to ongoing regulatory obligations, including periodic audits and assessments.

The PDPLs attempt to strike a balance between international best practices and the national practice. These measures ensure data generated within the country remains secure while aligning with global standards for data sovereignty compliance. Following these requirements is essential for businesses operating in Saudi Arabia. Not only does compliance avoid legal repercussions, but it also fosters trust with clients and stakeholders.

How InCountry helps companies stay compliant with Saudi Arabia’s data sovereignty requirements

At InCountry, our top priority is to assist your business in KSA in adhering to all relevant data sovereignty laws. We achieve this through a range of services tailored to meet each client’s specific needs. One of our solutions is our cloud-based data storage service, which enables companies to store their clients’ data in KSA while still being able to access it anywhere. This service, known as Data Residency-as-a-Service, ensures that companies can store and process data within the country, in compliance with local data residency laws.

Additionally, we adapt our infrastructure and services to comply with the unique regulatory requirements of each country. This means ensuring compliance with KSA’s Cloud Computing Regulatory Framework (CCF) in Saudi Arabia, which emphasizes data protection, security, and clear protocols for breach notification.

In summary, we go above and beyond to ensure our clients fully comply with all KSA data sovereignty laws. 

Contact us today to discuss your needs and provide unique solutions for your data privacy compliance requirements.