Guide to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Everything UK organisations need to know about processing personal data under the GDPR

What does ‘GDPR’ stand for?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a law that governs how organisations process personal data

Following Brexit, there are now two GDPRs: the EU GDPR and the UK GDPR.

The EU GDPR supersedes the EU Data Protection Directive 1995 and all member state law based on it. It applies to organisations that process or control the processing of EU residents’ personal information, wherever the organisations are based.

The UK’s post-Brexit version of the EU GDPR is the UK GDPR. It is similar to the EU regulation and places similar obligations on data controllers and processors.

For the sake of clarity, we refer to “the GDPR” to mean those requirements common to both the UK and EU versions of the Regulation. Where the two laws differ, we use the regional prefixes.

UK data protection law is currently being revised. We are following the progress of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill through parliament and will keep you updated on how it might affect your data processing obligations.

EU General Data Protection Regulation – A compliance guide.

Download our free compliance guide

Download this free green paper to understand the fundamental principles and rights of the GDPR, and what UK organisations must do to comply.

Download now

What is the purpose of the GDPR?

The GDPR gives data subjects more control over how their personal data is processed. It places a range of obligations on organisations that process and control the processing of personal data.

Watch: Get a complete overview of the GDPR

What is the relationship between the EU GDPR and the DPA 2018 and UK GDPR?

The UK GDPR is supplemented by the DPA (Data Protection Act) 2018. The DPA 2018 applies the GDPR’s provisions to certain types of processing that are outside the Regulation’s scope, including processing by public authorities. It sets out data processing regimes for law enforcement processing and intelligence processes.

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

Find out more about the DPA 2018 and UK GDPR

When did the EU 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 UK enacted its own version of the EU GDPR under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. This is known as the ‘UK GDPR’.

When did the UK GDPR come into force?

At the end of the Brexit transition period: 1 January 2021.

Who does the GDPR apply to?

The UK GDPR applies both to UK organisations that collect, store or otherwise process the personal data of individuals residing in the UK, and to non-UK organisations that offer goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, UK residents.

The EU GDPR applies both to EU organisations that collect, store or otherwise process the personal data of individuals residing in the EU, and to non-EU organisations that offer goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU residents.

UK organisations therefore have at least two data protection laws to adhere to:

  • The DPA 2018 and UK GDPR if they process only domestic personal data.
  • The DPA 2018 and UK GDPR, and the EU GDPR if they offer goods and services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU residents.

If you are a UK organisation bound by the EU GDPR, you may need to:

  • Appoint an EU representative.
  • Identify a lead supervisory authority in the EU; and/or
  • Update your policies, procedures and other documentation in light of the changes you make.

Learn more about UK data protection law after Brexit

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: 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:

The six data processing principles

Lawful processing

Data subjects’ rights

Valid consent

Data protection by design and by default

Transparency and privacy notices

International data transfers

Mandatory data breach notification

DPOs (data protection officers)

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 strict 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 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.

International data transfers

The GDPR permits international transfers of personal data under certain circumstances:

  • Where the destination country has an adequacy decision, demonstrating that it provides an adequate level of data protection;
  • Through SCCs (standard contractual clauses) or binding corporate rules; or
  • By complying with an approved certification mechanism.

On 28 June 2021, the European Commission announced that it had adopted an adequacy decision in respect of the UK’s post-Brexit data protection regime.

This means personal data can continue to flow from the EEA to the UK, without the need for organisations to use SCCs or other means of ensuring that appropriate safeguards apply.

The UK’s data protection regime will be deemed adequate for four years, after which the adequacy findings will be renewed only if the UK continues to afford EU residents’ personal data an adequate level of protection, in line with the EU GDPR. If UK data protection law deviates from the EU GDPR to a significant extent, the Commission could withdraw the decision.

See our UK data protection law and Brexit page for more information.

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

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 GDPR

EU General Data Protection Regulation – A compliance guide.

Free green paper: Brexit and Data Protection

Download our free green paper “Brexit and Data Protection - A quick overview of the UK GDPR” to learn more about the UK GDPR, how it differs from the EU GDPR, and what you need to do to ensure your data processing remains in compliance with the law after Brexit.

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, Personal data vs. sensitive data: what’s the difference?

GDPR fines and penalties

Infringements of the EU GDPR can result in fines of up to €20 million (about £18 million) or 4% of annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

Infringements of the UK GDPR can result in administrative fines of up to £17.5 million or 4% of annual turnover – whichever is greater.

Learn more about GDPR fines and penalties

The benefits of GDPR compliance

There are significant advantages to GDPR compliance.

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 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 GDPR compliance.

Whatever your needs, from data flow mapping to staff training, to providing an EU representative, to carrying out a GDPR compliance audit, or an assessment of your data protection practices post-Brexit, we have a wide range of products that can help you meet your GDPR objectives.

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