GDPR Key Definitions

GDPR Key Definitions and Terminology

This week, as part of our series on GDPR, we are looking at the key definitions in the EU General Data Protection Regulation to help you decide which of the obligations of GDPR do indeed apply to your business.

Data Controller

Like the existing Data Protection Act (DPA), the GDPR applies to Data Controllers who process personal data. So first, who is the Data Controller? This is a person who decides the purpose for which any personal data is to be processed and the way in which it is to be processed. This can be decided by one person alone or jointly with other people.

Data Processor

Unlike the DPA, the GDPR introduces specific responsibilities for the Data Processor. These are third parties that process data on behalf of the Data Controller and includes IT service providers (many of which are among our clients). In a later post, we’ll look at the specific responsibilities of Data Processors, especially when processing is subcontracted to other Data Processors.

By the way, an employee of a company which decides what and how personal data is to be processed is a Data Controller, not a Data Processor.

Personal Data

The GDPR has a broader definition of what constitutes personal data than the DPA, by incorporating reference to identifiers such as name, identification numbers, IP address and location. Each person to which the personal data refers is known as a Data Subject.

Sensitive Personal Data

Again, the GDPR definition of sensitive personal data is slightly broader than under the DPA. The main addition is biometric data, for the purposes of uniquely identifying a person. Actually, the GDPR talks about a special category of personal data rather than sensitive personal data but the definition is almost the same. The table below illustrates what is sensitive and what isn’t, and what isn’t personal data – but as this excellent article discussing the subject suggests, if you are asking yourself if it’s personal data or not, why not err on the side of caution and treat it as if it is?

What is personal or sensitive data?

Right to be forgotten

The right to erasure of personal data or ‘the right to be forgotten’ enables an individual to request the deletion or removal of personal data whether there is no compelling reason for its continued processing. We’ll talk more about this in the next post when we discuss consent.

Data Protection Officer

A Data Protection Officer is someone who is given formal responsibility for data protection compliance within a business. Not every business will need to appoint a data protection officer – you need to do so if:

  • Your organisation is a public authority; or
  • You carry out large scale systematic monitoring of individuals (for example, online behaviour tracking); or
  • You carry out large scale processing of special categories of data or data relating to criminal convictions and offences.

Data Protection Authority

The Data Protection Authority in the UK will still be the UK Information Commissioner, who is tasked by the EU with the monitoring and enforcement of the GDPR within the UK. The European Data Protection Board is the “super regulator” consisting of the heads of each national supervisory authority. The Queen’s Speech last week announced a new Data Protection Bill to remove any doubt that the UK will implement GDPR so that it continues to be in force after Brexit takes effect.


Derogation, meaning an exemption from the regulations, is something under active discussion within the DCMS at the moment (Department for Culture Media and Sport, the relevant government department). I’m a member of the GDPR working group of TechUK, the software and IT services industry body whose views DCMS seeks while drafting guidelines and derogations for GDPR.

Adequacy and Transfer of Data outside the EEA

If the UK leaves not only the EU but also the EEA, crucially the GDPR allows transferring data outside the EEA to any country or territory in respect of which the Commission has made a “positive finding of adequacy” i.e. is the transfer to a country on the EU Commission’s list of countries or territories providing adequate protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in connection with the processing of their personal data? Achieving this “positive finding of adequacy” is one of the main aims of the consultation that DCMS is holding at the moment.


Pseudonymisation is a method by which personal data is processed such that it can no longer be tied to an individual data subject without linking to additional data. This does offer scope for some forms of data processing to avoid the obligations attendant on processing personal data, as long as the data being provided for processing doesn’t include the additional dataset(s).

Privacy Impact Assessments

A Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) is an obligatory method of identifying and reducing privacy risks to individuals through the misuse of their personal information when you are undertaking new projects handling personal data.


Profiling means automated processing of personal data for evaluation analysis or prediction. When processing personal data for profiling purposes, you must ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place.

Further reading

This is by no means a complete list of the definitions used in the GDPR but it is the most important ones, other than terms like consent and subject access right which we will discuss in later posts. A brief but more complete list of definitions is available here.

In the next post, we’ll look at when you need consent.

uk election week

Suppression screening, terrorism and your vote

The election today and the aftermath of the appalling events at London Bridge and Borough Market have disrupted my momentum for writing about EU GDPR and what you need to know to get ready for next May 25th. I’m a frequent visitor to Borough Market and often walk across London Bridge, so like many others, this is the first time that terrorism has seemed so close to me.

Top of my mind this week is the news that the third mass murderer at London Bridge was an Italian/Moroccan whose name is apparently on the Schengen Information System – according to the BBC, “An Italian police source has confirmed to the BBC that Zaghba had been placed on a watch list, which is shared with many countries, including the UK.” Both the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks were conducted using hired vehicles, the first a car and the second a van. Last month, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced that it wants truck rental agencies to be more vigilant in efforts to prevent these attacks and according to the same article, Penske (a nationwide truck leasing company in the US) screens customers using a watch list.

So, the first question that springs to my mind after London is “Should vehicle rental companies in Europe be screening customers against the Schengen list?” Obviously, not all such attacks are committed using hired vehicles, but many (if not most) are committed using hired or stolen vehicles – and stolen vehicles are likely to be on a police database with an active watch being kept out for them. The larger the vehicle, the more dangerous it is, the more likely it is to be able to crash through barriers and kill and maim people – and the more likely it is to be hired or stolen rather than owned.

The next question that rose to my mind was “Will the UK still have access to the Schengen list after Brexit?” Hopefully, however “hard” Brexit turns out to be, UK and EU negotiators will have cooperation on terrorism at the top of their list and such information will continue to be shared, so increasing systematic use of this data should be top of many people’s agendas.

Last, I worried whether the increased responsibilities for protection of personal data (and vastly increased fines) being introduced with GDPR next May will lead to companies putting their own interests first when it comes to (not) sharing information about suspicious persons with the authorities, or whether there need to be exemptions written into the guidance to ensure that individuals and organisations don’t get fined for breaches of GDPR through trying to do the right thing to help protect the public? I can ask this at next week’s techUK Data Protection Group, where one of the people developing the legislation and guidance from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport will be in attendance.

One other thought concerning data about people seems particularly relevant today – last Tuesday’s Telegraph “fears that thousands of postal ballots could have been sent out to voters who have died, putting their vote at risk of being used by somebody else”. Of course, speaking from personal experience, potentially a much bigger fraud could be all the residents of care homes, especially those with Alzheimer’s, being sent postal votes. Are additional precautions taken in checking that these votes are being filled in by the residents themselves? I know that in at least some cases, the postal vote addressee is not screened against the Power of Attorney registers. Given that GDPR obliges organisations to make sure the personal data that they keep is accurate and up-to-date, I wonder how the formula for fining an organisation 2-4% of global gross revenue under GDPR applies to a taxpayer-funded body such as a local authority!?


GDPR – what is changing next May?

This is the second in a series of posts about the EU GDPR – now less 12 months away! If you are a marketer, a business/systems analyst or a processor of third party data, this series of posts is written with you in mind – I hope you will be able to use it and the links that we provide to save you time and point you in the right direction as you grapple with the GDPR challenge. You can of course download the 130 page guide from the Information Commissioner’s website or browse through it during your lunch break, but if you want something targeted at you and split into manageable chunks, read on! In the first post, we mentioned how a genuine Single Customer View helps to keep data accurate and up to date. In this post we cover what will change from the current Data Protection Act.

At another very informative TechUK meeting last week on this topic, Rob Luke from the ICO described GDPR as an evolution of the existing rules and not a revolution. Essentially the GDPR is tightening up and clarifying existing rules more than introducing new ones, but there are two big differences:

  • Most obviously there are now huge penalties that can be imposed as discussed last week.
  • There are now responsibilities for data processors as well as data controllers, which is particularly significant for our industry.

Other key changes include mandatory notification of breaches, stricter rules on what constitutes sensitive personal data, making it harder to obtain consent and the introduction of mandatory data protection officers for some types of usage.

We will look at the new obligations for data processors in a later post aimed solely at our professional service provider audience, as well as looking at the new obligations for data controllers in a post specific to them. The key aspect of the GDPR which bears on the relationship between data controller and data processor is the much tighter control of data transfer and the need for written agreements between the two parties detailing their respective responsibilities. We will also look at when you need to obtain explicit consent and what has changed in this respect in a later post – whether you can adopt opt-out or have to settle for opt-in is now a more complex question.

Finally, if you are designing new systems, GDPR obliges you to undertake a Privacy Impact Assessment and incorporate Privacy by Design into your system – privacy and security should not be an afterthought. You must also incorporate privacy by default into collection of personal data: Fieldfisher’s blog summarises it as “businesses should only process personal data to the extent necessary for their intended purposes and should not store it for longer than is necessary for these purposes”. They state as an example that systems should “allow suppression of data of customers who have objected to receiving direct marketing”.

In the next post we will look at the key definitions in the GDPR so you can decide whether some of the obligations do indeed apply to your business. If you can’t wait, you can get a head start by reading this table in White & Case’s excellent handbook on GDPR. To be prompted about the next instalment in our series of posts, follow us on Twitter.