GDPR: What is personal data?

Personal data is any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual. Different pieces of information, which collected together can lead to the identification of a particular person, also constitute personal data.

Personal data that has been de-identified, encrypted or pseudonymised but can be used to re-identify a person remains personal data and falls within the scope of the law.

Personal data that has been rendered anonymous in such a way that the individual is not or no longer identifiable is no longer considered personal data. For data to be truly anonymised, the anonymisation must be irreversible.

The law protects personal data regardless of the technology used for processing that data – it’s technology neutral and applies to both automated and manual processing, provided the data is organised in accordance with pre-defined criteria (for example alphabetical order). It also doesn’t matter how the data is stored – in an IT system, through video surveillance, or on paper; in all cases, personal data is subject to the protection requirements set out in the GDPR.

Examples of personal data

  • a name and surname;
  • a home address;
  • an email address such as name.surname@company.com;
  • an identification card number;
  • location data (for example the location data function on a mobile phone)*;
  • an Internet Protocol (IP) address;
  • a cookie ID*;
  • the advertising identifier of your phone;
  • data held by a hospital or doctor, which could be a symbol that uniquely identifies a person.

Examples of data not considered personal data

  • a company registration number;
  • an email address such as info@company.com;
  • anonymised data.

What does the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) govern?

Regulation (EU) 2016/6791, the European Union’s (‘EU’) new General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’), regulates the processing by an individual, a company or an organisation of personal data relating to individuals in the EU.

It doesn’t apply to the processing of personal data of deceased persons or of legal entities.

The rules don’t apply to data processed by an individual for purely personal reasons or for activities carried out in one’s home, provided there is no connection to a professional or commercial activity. When an individual uses personal data outside the personal sphere, for socio-cultural or financial activities, for example, then the data protection law has to be respected.

Examples

When the regulation applies

A company with an establishment in the EU provides travel services to customers based in the Baltic countries and in that context processes personal data of natural persons.

When the regulation doesn’t apply

An individual uses their own private address book to invite friends via email to a party that they are organising (household exception).

What constitutes data processing?

Processing covers a wide range of operations performed on personal data, including by manual or automated means. It includes the collection, recording, organisation, structuring, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making available, alignment or combination, restriction, erasure or destruction of personal data.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to the processing of personal data wholly or partly by automated means as well as to non-automated processing, if it is part of a structured filing system.

Examples of processing

  • staff management and payroll administration;
  • access to/consultation of a contacts database containing personal data;
  • sending promotional emails*;
  • shredding documents containing personal data;
  • posting/putting a photo of a person on a website;
  • storing IP addresses or MAC addresses;
  • video recording (CCTV).

*Please remember that to send direct marketing emails, you also have to comply with the marketing rules set out in the ePrivacy Directive.

What are Data Protection Authorities (DPAs)?

DPAs are independent public authorities that supervise, through investigative and corrective powers, the application of the data protection law. They provide expert advice on data protection issues and handle complaints lodged against violations of the General Data Protection Regulation and the relevant national laws. There is one in each EU Member State.

Generally speaking, the main contact point for questions on data protection is the DPA in the EU Member State where your company/organisation is based. However, if your company/organisation processes data in different EU Member States or is part of a group of companies established in different EU Member States, that main contact point may be a DPA in another EU Member State.

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