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GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

The General Data Protection Regulation – more commonly referred to as GDPR – applies to all organisations worldwide that process personal data of European Union (EU) citizens, effectively making it the first global data protection law. Its introduction is based on the fact that many businesses and services operate across borders, making international consistency around data protection laws and rights crucial both to organisations and individual alike. The growing digital economy also makes it important for safeguards to be in place regarding data, and the individuals to whom it applies.

If your organisation falls under the description above, it is under a legal obligation to comply with GDPR. The GDPR places greater emphasis on the documentation that data controllers must keep to demonstrate their accountability. Compliance with all the key areas will require your organisation to review its approach to governance and how it manages data protection as a corporate issue. One aspect of this might be to review the contracts and other arrangements you have in place when sharing data with other organisations.

This overview highlights the GDPR’s key themes to help you understand the legal framework in the EU. It is for those who have day-to-day responsibility for data protection.

Who does the GDPR apply to?

  • The GDPR applies to ‘controllers’ and ‘processors’. The controller says how and why personal data is processed and the processor acts on the controller’s behalf. 
    If you are a processor, the GDPR places specific legal obligations on you; for example, you are required to maintain records of personal data and processing activities. You will have significantly more legal liability if you are responsible for a breach. These obligations for processors are a new requirement under the GDPR.
    However, if you are a controller, you are not relieved of your obligations where a processor is involved – the GDPR places further obligations on you to ensure your contracts with processors comply with the GDPR.
  • The GDPR applies to processing carried out by organisations operating within the EU. It also applies to organisations outside the EU that offer goods or services to individuals in the EU.
  • The GDPR does not apply to certain activities including processing covered by the Law Enforcement Directive, processing for national security purposes and processing carried out by individuals purely for personal/household activities.

What information does the GDPR apply to?

Personal Data

The GDPR applies to ‘personal data’. However, the GDPR’s definition is more detailed and makes it clear that information such as an online identifier – eg an IP address – can constitute personal data. The more expansive definition provides for a wide range of personal identifiers to constitute personal data, reflecting changes in technology and the way organisations collect information about people.

For most organisations, keeping HR records, customer lists, or contact details etc, the change to the definition should make little practical difference. You can assume that if you hold information that falls within the scope of the DPA, it will also fall within the scope of the GDPR.

The GDPR applies to both automated personal data and to manual filing systems where personal data is accessible according to specific criteria. 

Personal data that has been pseudonymised – eg key-coded – can fall within the scope of the GDPR depending on how difficult it is to attribute the pseudonym to a particular individual.

Sensitive personal data

The GDPR refers to sensitive personal data as “special categories of personal data” (see Article 9). 

For example, the special categories specifically include genetic data, and biometric data where processed to uniquely identify an individual.

Personal data relating to criminal convictions and offences are not included, but similar extra safeguards apply to its processing (see Article 10).

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