Automating DSARs: Streamline Your Data Access Requests

At a glance

  • Data subject access requests (DSAR) are when a consumer submits an inquiry to an organization in regards to how their personal data is being collected, stored, or used.

  • A requirement of modern privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA/CPRA, data subject access requests are a pillar of effective privacy programs.

  • To ensure compliance and avoid penalties, organizations should prioritize data subject access request automation–as it’s the simplest way to fulfill DSARs accurately and at scale.

Table of contents

Data subject access request: Definition

Data subject access requests are when a consumer submits an inquiry with a business requesting the organization reveal what personal data has been collected, how it’s being used, and when it will be deleted.

Many state privacy laws also give consumers the right to request a portable copy of their data, as well as data correction or deletion.

All privacy laws require that companies respond to a DSAR within a specified time frame, but how long depends on the specific law—usually between 30-60 days.

Responding to data subject access requests

Before diving into how companies can respond to DSARs, it’s important to understand what an acceptable response might entail.

Remember, DSAR stands for data subject access request. Data subject refers to the individual, generally a consumer, who is making the inquiry. Access request is fairly straightforward–though it’s important to note that a data subject can request more than just access.

Yes, DSARs can and often do revolve around accessing personal data, but consumers can also request information on:

  • Your organizations lawful basis for processing their data

  • How long you intend to store their data

  • Confirmation of data processing

  • Details on how their data was collected, including the source of any indirect data collection

  • Details about any automated decision-making (i.e. profiling) being applied to their data, including the logic employed and how it affected future processing

  • Any third parties with whom their data is being shared

Once a request has been received, organizations have a set time limit to respond–30 days for GDPR and 45 days for CCPA. If an organization fails to respond, or responds but was unable to fulfill the request, consumers have the right to file a complaint with the attorney general or other enforcement body.

If it’s not already clear–responding to DSARs can be complex and time-consuming. And the stakes are high.

2020 and 2021 saw record fines for businesses who failed to comply with privacy regulation, so finding an effective way to fulfill DSARs is crucial.

Data subject access request automation will be key in terms of ensuring compliance today, while also scaling for the future.

DSAR fulfillment: Manual vs automated

Manually fulfilling a DSAR request can be tedious and time-consuming.

The receiving organization must begin by logging the details of each incoming request. Next, it must authenticate a user’s identity and eligibility in accordance with the applicable privacy law.

After verifying the data subject’s identity, the organization must then track down the requested data across its entire tech stack.

Once the day has been collected, it must be packaged in an easily transmittable format and sent to the user. Or, depending on the nature of the request, the data must be deleted.

Finally, the request outcome must be communicated to the user.

Of all these steps, verifying the data subject’s identity and locating all data across a dispersed tech stack are by far the most challenging aspects of a manual DSAR process.

Benefits of automating data subject requests

Automating data subject access request fulfillment alleviates the pain points outlined above by minimizing manual work and off-loading the most complicated steps, identify verification and data discovery, to a platform built for the job.

Save time by minimizing manual steps

When performing manual DSAR fulfillment, teams are forced to rely on point solutions like spreadsheets, project management tools, email, and privacy@ inboxes.

Authenticating data subject identity is one of the most time consuming components of DSAR fulfillment because it often requires additional communication with the user. With an automated privacy request platform, organizations can build two-factor authentication into the request process, saving time by completely eliminating a manual step.

Once a request is authenticated, it’s time to find all of the data your organization has on the data subject. As data is often stored across multiple systems, this can be a very technical process–one that requires support from engineering and/or data science teams.

Automating DSAR fulfillment with a privacy request platform removes the burden of data discovery from internal teams–minimizing the time it takes to fulfill a request, and freeing your teams to focus on core responsibilities.

Improve security for sensitive personal data

Burdening a single team with end-to-end data security for every DSAR request is unrealistic, especially if that team is relying on manual tools and workflows.

Any process that requires manual review presents a new potential vulnerability. In fact, according to McKinsey:

…about one-third of the breaches in recent years have been attributed to insider threats.

In a perfect world, no one would have access to the data being collected and collated throughout the DSAR process. Though this may not be possible in every situation, an automated DSAR fulfillment platform helps limit or even eliminate the need for manual review.

Internal threats are just one of the many security vulnerabilities an organization may have. External threats, such as hackers, pose a considerable risk as well. Any weakness in internal databases can lead to a data breach, so it’s important that sensitive data remain encrypted throughout the DSAR process.

The necessary level of security, such as end-to-end encryption, secure gateways, and valid identity verification, is simply not possible for a DSAR fulfillment process built around spreadsheets.

Data subject access request automation ensures greater data security by enabling fully encrypted workflows and limiting the number of individuals with access to sensitive data.

Minimize the risk of non-compliance

Failure to comply with DSAR requirements can expose organizations to civil penalties, opening them to significant financial risk.

DSAR automation reduces this risk by putting fulfillment essentially on auto-pilot.

Automation enhances the ability to track requests, locate consumer data, preserve data integrity, and respond to the user in a timely manner. Ultimately, this prevents your organization from incurring financial penalties due to an inability to fulfill a request on time and in full.


When it comes to fulfilling data subject access requests, manual workflows are a stop gap measure–only effective when your org receives just a handful of DSARs a month.

As new privacy laws proliferate consumer data rights, DSARs will become even more common and rising request volumes will quickly make manual measures unsustainable.

Automating DSAR fulfillment is a crucial step for organizations looking to ensure compliance today and scale effectively in the future.

Automate DSAR fulfillment with Transcend Privacy Requests

Transcend Privacy Requests is the easiest and most comprehensive way to delete, return, or modify a user’s data or preferences across your tech stack.

Cut privacy request processing costs by up to 80% or more and ditch manual work. Get started in minutes, and access prebuilt workflows and zero-code customization to fully automate data requests — no humans required.

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