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General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Overview

The EU GDPR extends the data rights of individuals (data subjects) and places a range of new obligations on organisations that process EU residents' personal data.

What is the GDPR?

The EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a pan-European data protection law, which superseded the EU’s 1995 Data Protection Directive and all member state law based on it, including the UK’s DPA 1998 (Data Protection Act 1998), on 25 May 2018.

The EU GDPR extends the data rights of individuals (data subjects) and places a range of new obligations on organisations that process EU residents’ personal data.

The UK DPA (Data Protection Act) 2018 modifies the EU GDPR by filling in the sections of the Regulation that were left 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, and 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 >>

The GDPR will be enacted in UK law after Brexit under section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.


Who does the GDPR apply to?

  • All 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.

Find out how your organisation can start its journey to becoming GDPR-compliant today >>

EU GDPR summary video

When the EU GDPR came into effect on 25 May 2018, it was the first major update to European data protection law for over 20 years. The Regulation gives individuals (known as data subjects) much greater control over how organisations process their personal data.

Watch our 7-minute video for a comprehensive overview of the EU GDPR.

GDPR overview

Click to expand some key changed introduced by the Regulation:

  • Establishing a governance structure with roles and responsibilities.
  • Keeping a detailed record of all data processing operations.
  • Documenting data protection policies and procedures.
  • Carrying out DPIAs (data protection impact assessments) for high-risk processing operations. Find out more about DPIAs >>
  • Implementing appropriate measures to secure personal data.
  • Conducting staff awareness training.
  • Where necessary, appoint a data protection officer.

Read our EU GDPR compliance checklist >>

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

  • 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.
  • For the legitimate interests of the organisation.

  • 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 under 13 is only valid with parental authorisation.
  • Organisations must be able to evidence consent.

  • 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

  • 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 direct 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.

  • 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 Brexit, the UK will be classed as a third country and will have to rely on one of these mechanisms. See our page on UK data protection law and Brexit for more information.)

  • 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 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.

  • 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 >>

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? 

Personal data is any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (data subject). The Regulation places much stronger controls on the processing of special categories of personal data than the DPA 1998 did. The inclusion of genetic and biometric data is new.

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

How will Brexit affect the GDPR?

The GDPR, like all EU regulations, applies directly in the UK with all the authority of a domestic law.

When the UK leaves the EU, the EU GDPR will no longer directly apply. However, its requirements will still be part of UK law.

Find out what will happen to data protection law in the UK after Brexit >>


The benefits of the GDPR

There are great advantages to EU GDPR compliance. The new law promotes greater transparency and accountability and aims to increase public trust by giving individuals more control over their data. By getting data protection right, organisations will enhance their reputation, and build better, trusted relationships with existing and potential customers.

The business benefits of the EU GDPR include:

  • Build customer trust
  • Improve brand image and reputation
  • Improve data governance
  • Improve information security
  • Improve competitive advantage

Start your journey to becoming GDPR-compliant today >>

How IT Governance can help you comply with the EU GDPR

IT Governance, a leading global provider of IT governance, risk management and compliance solutions, is at the forefront of helping organisations globally address the challenges of EU GDPR compliance.

Browse our wide range of products that can help you meet your EU GDPR compliance objectives.