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The EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a pan-European data protection law, which superseded the EU’s 1995 Data Protection Directive and all member state law based on it, including the UK’s DPA 1998 (Data Protection Act 1998), on 25 May 2018.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

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

Who does the EU GDPR apply to?

The EU GDPR applies 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.

It distinguishes between ‘data controllers’ and ‘data 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 GDPR compliance checklist to find out how your organisation can become GDPR compliant

GDPR overview - What does the GDPR require you to do?

Click to expand some key changes introduced by the Regulation:

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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.)

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

  • 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.

Read our blog, GDPR data breach notification A quick guide

  • 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

What is personal 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 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


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

GDPR - A compliance guide - free pdf download

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

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 and UK organisations that process EU residents’ personal data will need to make changes to their business processes in order to continue complying.

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

GDPR enforcement

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

Learn more about GDPR enforcement and penalties >>

The benefits of GDPR compliance

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

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

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

Whatever your needs, from mapping your organisation's data flow 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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