The EU GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) – Overview

Everything you need to know about processing personal data under Regulation (EU) 2016/679

What is the GDPR?

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a pan-European data protection law, which superseded the EU’s 1995 Data Protection Directive, and all member state law based on that directive, on 25 May 2018.

Significant and wide-reaching in scope, the GDPR brings a 21st-century approach to data protection. It expands the rights of individuals to control how their personal data is collected and processed, and places a range of new obligations on organisations (both controllers and processors) to be more accountable for data protection.

The GDPR also gives member states limited opportunities to make provisions or derogations for how the Regulation applies in their country; Ireland has done so via its Data Protection Act 2018, which came into effect on 25 May 2018.

GDPR – an ongoing compliance journey

25 May 2018 was just the beginning – the GDPR requires clear evidence of an organisation’s ongoing commitment and compliance efforts. You must ensure that you maintain your data processing practices to adequately address any emerging privacy and security risks.

If you have not yet started your GDPR journey, you should prioritise tackling those areas where a lack of action leaves your organisation exposed. When an infringement occurs, demonstrating you have made a start could help reduce potential penalties.

EU General Data Protection Regulation – A compliance guide.

Free PDF download: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – A compliance guide

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

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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 are 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 

What are the GDPR requirements?

Click to expand some of the key requirements introduced by the Regulation:

Accountability and governance

The six data processing principles

Lawful processing

Data subjects’ rights

Valid consent

Data protection by design and by default

Transparency and privacy notices

Data transfers outside the EU

Mandatory data breach notification

DPOs (data protection officers)

Accountability and governance

You must be able to demonstrate compliance with the GDPR. This includes:

  • 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. Learn more about DPIAs .
  • Implementing appropriate measures to secure personal data.
  • Conducting staff awareness training.
  • Where required, appointing a data protection officer.

Read our EU GDPR compliance checklist

The six data processing principles

The GDPR lists six data processing principles that data controllers must comply with. 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.

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.

Learn how to map your data and establish a lawful basis for processing

Valid consent

There are stricter 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 (data protection impact assessment) is an integral part of privacy by design.

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.

Data transfers outside the EU

  • 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.

Many non-EU organisations that process EU residents’ personal data also need to appoint an EU representative following the end of the transition period.

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 Data Protection Commission (DPC) in Ireland) 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.

DPOs (data protection officers)

You must be able to demonstrate compliance with the GDPR. This includes:

  • 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; Learn more about DPIAs
  • Implementing appropriate measures to secure personal data;
  • Conducting staff awareness training; and
  • Where required, appointing a data protection officer.

Read our EU GDPR compliance checklist

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 (previously referred to as sensitive personal data) than the Irish Data Protection Act 2018. The inclusion of genetic and biometric data is new to this category.

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 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’.

The UK GDPR is supplemented by the UK DPA (Data Protection Act) 2018. Among other things, the UK 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 UK DPA 2018 should, therefore, be read together.

International transfers of personal data from the EU to the UK

Under the EU GDPR, international transfers are permitted only in certain circumstances:

  • If the European Commission has issued an adequacy decision, stating that there is an adequate level of data protection.
  • If appropriate safeguards are in place, such as BCRs (binding corporate rules) or SCCs (standard contractual clauses).
  • Based on approved codes of conduct. (No such code has been agreed for transfers from the EEA to the UK yet.)

These mechanisms are explained below.

Most organisations outside the EU that provide goods or services to, or monitor the behaviour of, EU residents will also have to appoint an EU representative, under Article 27 of the EU GDPR.

The UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement allows for the continued free flow of personal data from the EU to the UK for a maximum of six months after the end of the transition period (31 December 2021). 

This enables UK organisations to continue to freely receive data from the EEA (EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) without the need for further action. 

The UK hopes the European Commission will then issue an adequacy decision in relation to the UK so that personal data can continue to flow freely beyond this six-month period. 

How IT Governance can help you comply with the EU 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 EU GDPR compliance.

Whatever your needs, from data flow mapping to staff training, 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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