Data protection law in the UK is primarily governed currently by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR affects businesses and other organisations which are involved in the handling of personal data. It is important to take note of the regulations as failure to comply can result in a hefty fine or penalty.

The following is a summary or reminder of some of the key features of data protection law under the GDPR.

To help organisations to ensure compliance, we have also produced a suggested Data Protection Checklist and Action Plan.

Data Processing Principles

The data processing principles set out in the GDPR relate to:

1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency

In summary, personal data must be processed fairly and lawfully and in a transparent manner. There are a number of specific obligations which arise in connection with this principle, some of which are highlighted later in this summary.

2. Purpose limitation

Personal data must be collected only for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes. This means generally that data may not be used for any purposes other than those which were notified to the individual data subject when it was collected.

3. Data minimisation

Any personal data which is processed must be adequate, relevant and limited only to what is necessary for the purposes for which it is processed. This means that data should be deleted when it is no longer appropriate to keep it.

4. Accuracy

Personal data must be accurate and up to date. Personal data which is inaccurate should be erased or rectified without delay.

5. Storage limitation

Personal data should be kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which it is processed.

6. Integrity and confidentiality

Personal data must be processed in a way which ensures appropriate security for the data. This means protection against unauthorised or unlawful processing, accidental loss, destruction or damage using technical or organisational measures appropriate to the risk.


The GDPR also provides for a general obligation of accountability to ensure that personal data is processed in accordance with the above principles so it is important for organisations to reflect carefully on the application of each of the six principles to their specific data processing activities to check that their processes are compliant.

Legal Basis for Processing

Any processing of personal data requires a proper legal basis to justify the processing.

Consent is often relied upon as the basis to justify processing, but in order to be relied upon must meet a number of tests. The GDPR requires a very high standard of consent.

The consent must be demonstrated by a clear affirmative action establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the individual's agreement to their personal data being processed.  Organisations which rely on consent as a legal basis for processing personal data must therefore ensure that any consent they obtain indicates a clear positive act of approval by the individual.

The consent must be “informed” which means that the individual must also have been provided with all of the information required by the law to inform their decision. Unless the necessary information has not been provided, even a positive act of consent will not be sufficient to comply with the law.

The consent must also be freely given. If consent has been given by an employee in their contract of employment where there is likely to be a clear imbalance between the parties, such consent is unlikely to be regarded as being freely given.

The onus is on the organisation to prove that it has obtained proper consent to all of its processing of an individual’s data. Organisations should also be aware that consent may be withdrawn by an individual at any time.

Note that there are additional requirements in relation to consent where any processing of the personal data of children is involved.

Alternative Bases for Processing: It should be remembered that consent is not the only lawful basis for processing personal data. There are a number of other potential grounds which may be relevant where, for example, the processing is necessary for the purpose of a contract with the individual, or to protect the individual’s vital interests or for the legitimate interests of the data controller.

Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate and more practical in many cases to rely on one of the alternative grounds for lawful processing, but it should be noted that the requirements for each of the different grounds includes safeguards, for example, to balance the rights and freedoms of the individual and so great care must be taken when considering the appropriate grounds for processing to ensure that all of the conditions in question are properly met.

Any business or organisation which controls and is responsible for the processing of personal data of individuals should check their arrangements, procedures, contracts and privacy notices to ensure that their processing can be shown to be lawful.

Special Categories of Personal Data

Organisations should be alert to the fact that there are special categories of personal data. The categories include data relating to: racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, health, sex life or sexual orientation.

Where data falling into any of these special categories is being processed, the grounds for lawful processing are more limited. It is more likely in practice that consent will be necessary.

Transparent processing

The requirement for transparency means that individuals need to be provided with certain detailed information regarding the processing of their data and their rights in relation to the same.

The necessary information will generally be set out in an organisation’s privacy notice. Organisations should check that their notices include all of the required information.

Obligations for data processors

The GDPR retains the concepts of Data Controllers and Data Processors which previously existed under the Data Protection Act 1998 but introduced new compliance obligations for processors.

Both controllers and organisations which process data on behalf of controllers need to be aware of the obligations on processors and reflect these in contracts between them dealing with the processing.

Technical and organisational measures

The GDPR requires organisations (both data controllers and data processors) to implement technical and organisational measures to ensure that the requirements of the GDPR are met.

In particular businesses should:

  • take data protection compliance requirements into account when introducing any new technology, product or service which involves the processing of personal data,  referred to as “data protection by design”;
  • conduct data protection “impact assessments” where there are specific high risks to individuals (see below);
  • plan these steps into future product/service cycles;
  • develop and implement a data breach response plan (including designating specific roles and responsibilities, training employees, and preparing template notifications) enabling the organisation to react promptly in the event of a data breach; and
  • where appropriate, consider “pseudonymisation” of personal data (that is, the processing of personal data in such a manner that the personal data can no longer be attributed to a specific individual, without additional information).

Mandatory privacy impact assessments

For certain specified data processing operations, for example where automated decisions are based on profiling or where there is large scale processing of special categories of data, a data protection impact assessment (PIA)  needs to  be carried out.

Organisations need to perform a PIA before carrying out any processing which, taking into account the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing, is likely to result in a high risk to data subjects. If the assessment indicates that the processing presents a high risk in the absence of measures taken by the controller to mitigate the risk, controllers must consult the ICO before carrying out the processing.

Record keeping obligations

The GDPR requires data controllers and data processors to maintain detailed documentation recording their processing activities and specified information relating to the processing.

These obligations do not generally apply to an organisation employing fewer than 250 people unless the processing is likely to result in high risk to individuals; the processing is not occasional or the processing includes sensitive personal data.

In addition, in certain circumstances, controllers or processors are required to appoint a data protection officer.

Rights for individuals

The GDPR sets out a number of significant rights for individuals:

The right to erasure or “to be forgotten”

Individuals have the right to request that businesses delete their personal data in certain circumstances (for example where the data is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected or the data subject withdraws their consent and the  organisation has no legitimate grounds for the continued processing).

The right to object to profiling

In certain circumstances, individuals have the right to object to the processing of their personal data.

This includes where the data is to be used for “profiling". Profiling is defined broadly and includes most forms of online tracking and behavioural advertising, making it harder for businesses to use data for these activities.

The fact of profiling must be disclosed to the data subject and a PIA is required.

The right to data portability

Individuals have a right to obtain a copy of their personal data from the data controller in a commonly used and machine readable format and have the right to transmit that data to another controller (for example, an online service provider).

In exercising this right, the data subject can request that the information is transmitted directly from one controller to another where this is technically feasible.

Data subject access requests

Individuals have the right to obtain specified information from organisations regarding the processing of their data and also to be provided with a copy of the data processed. This can be very difficult if organisations do not have systems in place ready to deal with such requests. It is important to do so because requests of this nature are often made in connection with some form of dispute with an organisation.

Under the GDPR, the organisation is not generally entitled to make any charge for responding to such requests and the time limits permitted for responding to a request is  within one month, with limited scope to extend the timescale in some circumstances.

Enforcement powers

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is able to impose fines on data controllers and data processors on a two-tier basis.

Fines may be made of up to 2% of the annual worldwide turnover in the preceding financial year or £8,700,000 (whichever is the greater) for violations relating to internal record keeping, data processor contracts, data security, breach notifications, data protection officers, and data protection by design and default.

Fines of up to 4% of the annual worldwide turnover in the preceding financial year or £17,5000,000 (whichever is the greater) can be made for violations relating to breaches of the data protection principles, conditions for consent, data subjects rights and international data transfers.

Strict data breach notification rules

The GDPR requires businesses to notify the ICO of all data breaches without undue delay and where feasible within 72 hours unless the data breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the individuals. If the data controller cannot do this, it will have to justify the delay to the authority.

Organisations should insofar as practicable have systems and procedures in place to identify, assess and report breaches to the ICO.

If the breach is likely to result in high risk to the individuals, the GDPR, requires organisations also to inform data subjects of specific information regarding the breach "without undue delay”.

Direct Marketing – Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive

The GDPR is not the only relevant legislation relating to data protection and privacy. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (PECR) which requires an individual's prior consent to electronic direct marketing such as email or text also needs to be considered and taken into account in relation to any direct marketing activities.


Contact for Advice

If your organisation is involved any processing of a personal data and would like advice on the new regulations or any of our other services, speak to Julian Milan or Roy Colaba in our Company and Commercial Department or fill in our online enquiry form.

Disclaimer: This is a summary of some of the key provisions of the GDPR only. It is provided for general information purposes only. It is not intended to be and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Last updated March 2023

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