The EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) – Overview

Everything you need to know about processing personal data under Regulation (EU) 2016/679 and the UK Data Protection Act 2018

What does GDPR stand for?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a pan-European data protection law.

It supersedes the EU’s Data Protection Directive 1995 and all member state law based on it – including the UK’s DPA (Data Protection Act) 1998.

(The EU has two major types of legislative act: regulations and directives. Regulations are binding and apply directly in all EU member states, whereas directives set out agreed goals that member states must achieve via domestic legislation.)

For comprehensive guidance and practical advice on complying with the GDPR, read our bestselling EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – An Implementation and Compliance Guide, Third edition.

What is the purpose of the GDPR?

The GDPR gives EU data subjects more control over how their personal data is processed and places a range of new obligations on organisations that process and control the processing of personal data. These are outlined below.

Watch our seven-minute video for a comprehensive overview of the GDPR.

What is the relationship between the GDPR and DPA 2018?

In the UK, the Regulation is supplemented by the DPA (Data Protection Act) 2018. Among other things, the DPA 2018 fills in certain areas that the GDPR leaves to individual member states to interpret and implement.

It also applies a “broadly equivalent regime” – known as “the applied GDPR” – to certain types of processing that are outside the EU GDPR’s scope, including processing by public authorities. It sets out data processing regimes for law enforcement processing and intelligence processes.

The EU GDPR and DPA 2018 should, therefore, be read together.

Find out more about the DPA 2018

When did the GDPR come into force?

The Regulation came into force on 24 May 2016 and took effect on 25 May 2018.

How does Brexit affect the GDPR?

The GDPR will continue to apply in the UK until the end of the Brexit transition period.

It will then be enacted in UK law under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. The domestic version of the Regulation will be known as the ‘UK GDPR’.

Learn more about UK data protection law after Brexit

Who does the EU GDPR apply to?

  • EU organisations that collect, store or otherwise process the personal data of individuals residing in the EU, even if they’re not EU citizens.
  • Organisations based outside the EU that offer goods or services to EU residents, monitor their behaviour or process their personal data.

What are data controllers and processors?

  • A data controller is the natural or legal person, public authority, agency or any other body that determines how and why personal data is processed.
  • A data processor is the natural or legal person, public authority, agency or any other body that processes personal data on behalf of the data controller.

Your compliance requirements differ depending on whether you are a controller or processor – or both.

Read our blog, Data controller vs data processor: what’s the difference?

What are the GDPR requirements?

Click to expand some of the key requirements introduced by the Regulation:

Accountability and governance

The six data processing principles

Lawful processing

Data subjects’ rights

Valid consent

Data protection by design and by default

Transparency and privacy notices

Data transfers outside the EU

Mandatory data breach notification

DPOs (data protection officers)

Accountability and governance

Data controllers must be able to demonstrate their compliance with the law by:

Read our blog, Why every organisation needs data protection impact assessments

Read our blog, How to write a GDPR data protection policy.

Read our EU GDPR compliance checklist

The six data processing principles

Data controllers must comply with six data processing principles. Personal data must be:

  1. Processed lawfully, fairly and transparently.
  2. Collected only for specific legitimate purposes.
  3. Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary.
  4. Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date.
  5. Stored only as long as is necessary.
  6. Processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security.

Lawful processing

Except for special categories of personal data, which cannot be processed except under certain circumstances, personal data can only be processed:

  • If the data subject has given their consent;
  • To meet contractual obligations;
  • To comply with legal obligations;
  • To protect the data subject’s vital interests;
  • For tasks in the public interest; and
  • For the legitimate interests of the organisation.

Read our blog, GDPR: lawful bases for processing, with examples

Data subjects’ rights

Data subjects have:

  • The right to be informed;
  • The right of access;
  • The right to rectification;
  • The right to erasure;
  • The right to restrict processing;
  • The right to data portability;
  • The right to object; and
  • Rights concerning automated decision-making and profiling.

Read our blog, What are the data subject rights under the GDPR?

Valid consent

There are stricter rules regarding consent:

  • Consent must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous.
  • A request for consent must be intelligible and in clear, plain language.
  • Silence, pre-ticked boxes and inactivity will no longer suffice as consent.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
  • Consent for online services from a child is only valid with parental authorisation.
  • Organisations must be able to evidence consent.

Data protection by design and by default

Data controllers and processors must implement technical and organisational measures that are designed to implement the data processing principles effectively.

  • Appropriate safeguards should be integrated into the processing.
  • Data protection must be considered at the design stage of any new process, system or technology.
  • A DPIA (data protection impact assessment) is an integral part of privacy by design.

Read our blog, The GDPR’s requirements for encryption

Transparency and privacy notices

Organisations must be clear about how, why and by whom personal data will be processed.

  • When personal data is collected directly from data subjects, data controllers must provide a privacy notice at the time of collection.
  • When personal data is not obtained directly from data subjects, data controllers must provide a privacy notice without undue delay, and within a month. This must be done the first time they communicate with the data subject.
  • For all processing activities, data controllers must decide how the data subjects will be informed, and design privacy notices accordingly. Notices can be issued in stages.
  • Privacy notices must be provided to data subjects in a concise, transparent and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language.

Data transfers outside the EU

  • Where the EU has designated a country as providing an adequate level of data protection;
  • Through standard contractual clauses or binding corporate rules; or
  • By complying with an approved certification mechanism, e.g. EU-US Privacy Shield.

(After the Brexit transition period, the UK will be classed as a third country. You will have to rely on one of these mechanisms if you process personal data from the EEA. See our page on UK data protection law and Brexit for more information.)

Many non-EU organisations that process EU residents’ personal data will also need to appoint an EU representative after the transition period.

Mandatory data breach notification

The GDPR defines a personal data breach as “a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed”.

  • Data processors are required to report all breaches of personal data to data controllers.
  • Data controllers are required to report breaches to the supervisory authority (the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) in the UK) within 72 hours of becoming aware of them if there is a risk to data subjects’ rights and freedoms.
  • Data subjects themselves must be notified without undue delay if there is a high risk to their rights and freedoms.

Read our blog, GDPR data breach notification: A quick guide

DPOs (data protection officers)

Appointing a DPO is mandatory for:

  • Public authorities;
  • Organisations involved in high-risk processing; and
  • Organisations processing special categories of data.

A DPO has set tasks:

  • Inform and advise the organisation of its obligations.
  • Monitor compliance, including awareness-raising, staff training and audits.
  • Cooperate with data protection authorities and act as a contact point.

Find out more about the DPO role under the EU GDPR

EU General Data Protection Regulation – A compliance guide.

Download our free GDPR compliance guide

Discover the basics of the GDPR and the key steps your organisation should take to achieve compliance.

Download now

What is personal data and special category data?

Personal data is any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (data subject). The GDPR places much stronger controls on the processing of special categories of sensitive data than the DPA 1998 did.

Personal data

  • Name
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Photo
  • IP address
  • Location data
  • Online behaviour (cookies)
  • Profiling and analytics data

Special categories of personal data

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Political opinions
  • Trade union membership
  • Sexual orientation
  • Health information
  • Biometric data
  • Genetic data

Read our blog, GDPR: What’s the difference between personal data and sensitive data?

GDPR fines and penalties

Infringements of the GDPR can result in fines of up to €20 million (about £17.8 million) or 4% of annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

When the UK leaves the EU, the EU GDPR will no longer directly apply. However, its requirements will still be part of UK law and UK organisations that process EU residents’ personal data will need to make changes to their business processes to continue complying.

Learn more about GDPR fines and penalties

The benefits of GDPR compliance

There are significant advantages to EU GDPR compliance.

By getting data protection right, organisations will enhance their reputation, and build better, trusted relationships with existing and potential customers.

The business benefits of GDPR compliance include:

  • Building customer trust;
  • Improving brand image and reputation;
  • Reducing the risk of data breaches;
  • Increasing information security; and
  • Gaining competitive advantage.

Read our GDPR compliance checklist to find out how your organisation can become GDPR compliant

How IT Governance can help you comply with the EU GDPR

As a leading global provider of IT governance, risk management and compliance solutions, we are at the forefront of helping organisations address the challenges of EU GDPR compliance.

Whatever your needs, from data flow mapping to staff training, to carrying out a GDPR compliance audit, we have a wide range of products that can help you meet your GDPR objectives.

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