The GDPR: Understanding the 6 data protection principles

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) outlines six data protection principles that summarise its many requirements.

These are an essential resource for those trying to understand how to achieve compliance. Indeed, small organisations, which often lack the resources to appoint data protection experts to guide them through compliance, may find them particularly useful.

We take a look at each principle in this blog, and provide advice on how they should fit within your GDPR compliance practices.

1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency

The first principle is relatively self-evident: organisations need to ensure their data collection practices don’t break the law and that they aren’t hiding anything from data subjects.

To remain lawful, you need to have a thorough understanding of the GDPR and its rules for data collection. To remain transparent with data subjects, you should state in your privacy policy the type of data you collect and the reason you’re collecting it.

2. Purpose limitation

Organisations should only collect personal data for a specific purpose, clearly state what that purpose is, and only collect data for as long as necessary to complete that purpose.

Processing that’s done for archiving purposes in the public interest or scientific, historical or statistical purposes is given more freedom.

3. Data minimisation

Organisations must only process the personal data that they need to achieve its processing purposes. Doing so has two major benefits.

First, in the event of a data breach, the unauthorised individual will only have access to a limited amount of data.

Second, data minimisation makes it easier to keep data accurate and up to date.

Find out more about GDPR compliance by downloading our free green paper.

General Data Protection Regulation – A Compliance Guide contains a comprehensive overview of your compliance requirements.

You’ll learn about the scope of the Regulation, gain more information on its key requirements and receive expert tips on how to bolster your security practices.

4. Accuracy

The accuracy of personal data is integral to data protection. The GDPR states that “every reasonable step must be taken” to erase or rectify data that is inaccurate or incomplete.

Individuals have the right to request that inaccurate or incomplete data be erased or rectified within 30 days.

5. Storage limitation

Similarly, organisations need to delete personal data when it’s no longer necessary.

How do you know when information is no longer necessary? According to marketing company Epsilon Abacus, organisations might argue that they “should be allowed to store the data for as long as the individual can be considered a customer.

So the question really is: For how long after completing a purchase can the individual be considered a customer?”

The answer to this will vary between industries and the reasons that data is collected. Any organisation that is uncertain how long it should keep personal data should consult a legal professional.

6. Integrity and confidentiality

This is the only principle that deals explicitly with security. The GDPR states that personal data must be

processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organisational measures”.

The GDPR is deliberately vague about what measures organisations should take, because technological and organisational best practices are constantly changing.

Currently, organisations should encrypt and/or pseudonymise personal data wherever possible, but they should also consider whatever other options are suitable.

The seventh principle

The GDPR includes an additional principle, accountability, which acts as an overarching set of requirements related to the other six.

By achieving accountability, organisations demonstrate that they have the necessary documentation to prove that they are meeting their compliance requirements.

This is typically done through a combination of technical measures and documentation such as:

  • Controller–processor contracts;
  • Relevant policies and procedures;
  • Privacy notices;
  • Staff training records;
  • Security monitoring and event logging records;
  • Data breach records; and
  • Data protection impact assessments.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the steps that organisations can take, but it covers the essentials.

Organisations should also consider appointing a DPO (data protection officer) or another formal data protection lead to demonstrate compliance.

You can also show your commitment to data security by achieving certification to recognised schemes such as ISO 27001, as well as annually validating compliance with the PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) and other contractual security requirements you may have.

Looking for more GDPR expertise?

If you want to know more about the GDPR and how to achieve and maintain compliance, take a look at our GDPR Toolkit.

Designed and developed by GDPR experts, the toolkit contains a complete set of template documents to demonstrate your compliance practices.

It’s ideal for anyone who wants help completing their documentation requirements quickly and easily – but it’s more than simply a set of templates. It also includes:

  • Gap analysis and DPIA tools that help you identify compliance weaknesses and how to address them;
  • Two licences for the GDPR Staff Awareness E-learning Course; and
  • Guidance documents covering data subject consent forms, data retention records, and pseudonymisation, minimisation and encryption.

A version of this blog was originally published on 31 January 2018.


  1. Peter Green 1st August 2018
    • Denise Rolph 10th January 2020
      • R Nesargi 7th February 2020
        • Jessica Belton 7th February 2020
          • Missy 13th June 2021
  2. Ian Crosby 23rd January 2020
    • Jessica Belton 29th January 2020
  3. R Nesargi 7th February 2020
    • Jessica Belton 7th February 2020
  4. N .Hillier 8th October 2020
    • Geraldine Niven 4th February 2021
  5. Paul Carter 11th January 2021
  6. Lolan Olan 3rd December 2021
  7. NDC Management 29th December 2021
  8. Dylan Hird 3rd November 2022

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