Data Security at a glance: 

  • A key principle of the GDPR is that you process personal data securely by means of ‘appropriate technical and organisational measures’ – this is the ‘security principle’.
  • Doing this requires you to consider things like risk analysis, organisational policies, and physical and technical measures.
  • You also have to take into account additional requirements about the security of your processing – and these also apply to data processors.
  • You can consider the state of the art and costs of implementation when deciding what measures to take – but they must be appropriate both to your circumstances and the risk your processing poses.
  • Where appropriate, you should look to use measures such as pseudonymisation and encryption.
  • Your measures must ensure the ‘confidentiality, integrity and availability’ of your systems and services and the personal data you process within them.
  • The measures must also enable you to restore access and availability to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident.
  • You also need to ensure that you have appropriate processes in place to test the effectiveness of your measures, and undertake any required improvements.

What does the GDPR say about security?

Article 5(1)(f) of the GDPR concerns the ‘integrity and confidentiality’ of personal data. It says that personal data shall 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'.

You can refer to this as the GDPR’s ‘security principle’. It concerns the broad concept of information security.

This means that you must have appropriate security to prevent the personal data you hold being accidentally or deliberately compromised. You should remember that while information security is sometimes considered as cybersecurity (the protection of your networks and information systems from attack), it also covers other things like physical and organisational security measures.

You need to consider the security principle alongside Article 32 of the GDPR, which provides more specifics on the security of your processing. Article 32(1) states:

‘Taking into account the state of the art, the costs of implementation and the nature, scope, context and purposes of processing as well as the risk of varying likelihood and severity for the rights and freedoms of natural persons, the controller and the processor shall implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk’.

What do our security measures need to protect?

The security principle goes beyond the way you store or transmit information. Every aspect of your processing of personal data is covered, not just cybersecurity. This means the security measures you put in place should seek to ensure that:

  • the data can be accessed, altered, disclosed or deleted only by those you have authorised to do so (and that those people only act within the scope of the authority you give them);
  • the data you hold is accurate and complete in relation to why you are processing it; and
  • the data remains accessible and usable, i.e., if personal data is accidentally lost, altered or destroyed, you should be able to recover it and therefore prevent any damage or distress to the individuals concerned.

These are known as ‘confidentiality, integrity and availability’ and under the GDPR, they form part of your obligations.

What level of security is required?

The GDPR does not define the security measures that you should have in place. (ISO 27001 and new versions were suggested as an example by the European Data Protection Authority) It requires you to have a level of security that is ‘appropriate’ to the risks presented by your processing. You need to consider this in relation to the state of the art and costs of implementation, as well as the nature, scope, context and purpose of your processing.

This reflects both the GDPR’s risk-based approach, and that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to information security. It means that what’s ‘appropriate’ for you will depend on your own circumstances, the processing you’re doing, and the risks it presents to your organisation.

So, before deciding what measures are appropriate, you need to assess your information risk. You should review the personal data you hold and the way you use it in order to assess how valuable, sensitive or confidential it is – as well as the damage or distress that may be caused if the data was compromised. You should also take account of factors such as:

  • the nature and extent of your organisation’s premises and computer systems;
  • the number of staff you have and the extent of their access to personal data; and
  • any personal data held or used by a data processor acting on your behalf.

What technical measures do we need to consider?

Technical measures are sometimes thought of as the protection of personal data held in computers and networks. Whilst these are of obvious importance, many security incidents can be due to the theft or loss of equipment, the abandonment of old computers or hard-copy records being lost, stolen or incorrectly disposed of. Technical measures therefore include both physical and computer or IT security.

When considering physical security, you should look at factors such as:

  • the quality of doors and locks, and the protection of your premises by such means as alarms, security lighting or CCTV;
  • how you control access to your premises, and how visitors are supervised;
  • how you dispose of any paper and electronic waste; and
  • how you keep IT equipment, particularly mobile devices, secure.

In the IT context, technical measures may sometimes be referred to as ‘cybersecurity’. This is a complex technical area that is constantly evolving, with new threats and vulnerabilities always emerging. It may therefore be sensible to assume that your systems are vulnerable and take steps to protect them.

When considering cybersecurity, you should look at factors such as:

  • system security – the security of your network and information systems, including those which process personal data;
  • data security – the security of the data you hold within your systems, eg ensuring appropriate access controls are in place and that data is held securely;
  • online security – eg the security of your website and any other online service or application that you use; and
  • device security – including policies on Bring-your-own-Device (BYOD) if you offer it.

Depending on the sophistication of your systems, your usage requirements and the technical expertise of your staff, you may need to obtain specialist information security advice that goes beyond the scope of this guidance. However, it’s also the case that you may not need a great deal of time and resources to secure your systems and the personal data they process.

Whatever you do, you should remember the following:

  • your cybersecurity measures need to be appropriate to the size and use of your network and information systems;
  • you should take into account the state of technological development, but you are also able to consider the costs of implementation;
  • your security must be appropriate to your business practices. For example, if you offer staff the ability to work from home, you need to put measures in place to ensure that this does not compromise your security; and
  • your measures must be appropriate to the nature of the personal data you hold and the harm that might result from any compromise.

What do we do when a data processor is involved?

If one or more organisations process personal data on your behalf, then these are data processors under the GDPR. This can have the potential to cause security problems – as a data controller you are responsible for ensuring compliance with the GDPR and this includes what the processor does with the data. However, in addition to this, the GDPR’s security requirements also apply to any processor you use.

This means that:

  • you must choose a data processor that provides sufficient guarantees about its security measures;
  • your written contract must stipulate that the processor takes all measures required under Article 32 – basically, the contract has to require the processor to undertake the same security measures that you would have to take if you were doing the processing yourself; and
  • you should ensure that your contract includes a requirement that the processor makes available all information necessary to demonstrate compliance. This may include allowing for you to audit and inspect the processor, either yourself or an authorised third party.

At the same time, your processor can assist you in ensuring compliance with your security obligations. For example, if you lack the resource or technical expertise to implement certain measures, engaging a processor that has these resources can assist you in making sure personal data is processed securely, provided that your contractual arrangements are appropriate.

Are we required to ensure our security measures are effective?

Yes, the GDPR specifically requires you to have a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of any measures you put in place. What these tests look like, and how regularly you do them, will depend on your own circumstances. However, it’s important to note that the requirement in the GDPR concerns your measures in their entirety, therefore whatever ‘scope’ you choose for this testing should be appropriate to what you are doing, how you are doing it, and the data that you are processing.

Technically, you can undertake this through a number of techniques, such as vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. These are essentially ‘stress tests’ of your network and information systems, which are designed to reveal areas of potential risk and things that you can improve.

You can undertake testing internally or externally. In some cases it is recommended that both take place. Whatever form of testing you undertake, you should document the results and make sure that you act upon any recommendations, or have a valid reason for not doing so, and implement appropriate safeguards. This is particularly important if your testing reveals potential critical flaws that could result in a personal data breach.


Data Erasure at a glance:

  • The GDPR introduces a right for individuals to have personal data erased.
  • The right to erasure is also known as ‘the right to be forgotten’.
  • Individuals can make a request for erasure verbally or in writing.
  • You have one month to respond to a request.
  • The right is not absolute and only applies in certain circumstances.
  • This right is not the only way in which the GDPR places an obligation on you to consider whether to delete personal data.

What is the right to erasure?

Under Article 17 of the GDPR, individuals have the right to have personal data erased. This is also known as the ‘right to be forgotten’. The right is not absolute and only applies in certain circumstances.

When does the right to erasure apply?

Individuals have the right to have their personal data erased if:

  • the personal data is no longer necessary for the purpose which you originally collected or processed it for;
  • you are relying on consent as your lawful basis for holding the data, and the individual withdraws their consent;
  • you are relying on legitimate interests as your basis for processing, the individual objects to the processing of their data, and there is no overriding legitimate interest to continue this processing;
  • you are processing the personal data for direct marketing purposes and the individual objects to that processing;
  • you have processed the personal data unlawfully (ie in breach of the lawfulness requirement of the 1st principle);
  • you have to do it to comply with a legal obligation; or
  • you have processed the personal data to offer information society services to a child.

Do we have to tell other organisations about the erasure of personal data?

The GDPR specifies two circumstances where you should tell other organisations about the erasure of personal data:

  • the personal data has been disclosed to others; or
  • the personal data has been made public in an online environment (for example on social networks, forums or websites).

If you have disclosed the personal data to others, you must contact each recipient and inform them of the erasure, unless this proves impossible or involves disproportionate effort. If asked to, you must also inform the individuals about these recipients.

The GDPR defines a recipient as a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body to which the personal data are disclosed. The definition includes controllers, processors and persons who, under the direct authority of the controller or processor, are authorised to process personal data.

Where personal data has been made public in an online environment reasonable steps should be taken to inform other controllers who are processing the personal data to erase links to, copies or replication of that data. When deciding what steps are reasonable you should take into account available technology and the cost of implementation.

Do we have to erase personal data from backup systems?

If a valid erasure request is received and no exemption applies then you will have to take steps to ensure erasure from backup systems as well as live systems. Those steps will depend on your particular circumstances, your retention schedule (particularly in the context of its backups), and the technical mechanisms that are available to you.

You must be absolutely clear with individuals as to what will happen to their data when their erasure request is fulfilled, including in respect of backup systems. It may be that the erasure request can be instantly fulfilled in respect of live systems, but that the data will remain within the backup environment for a certain period of time until it is overwritten.

The key issue is to put the backup data ‘beyond use’, even if it cannot be immediately overwritten. You must ensure that you do not use the data within the backup for any other purpose, i.e. that the backup is simply held on your systems until it is replaced in line with an established schedule. Provided this is the case it may be unlikely that the retention of personal data within the backup would pose a significant risk, although this will be context specific. 

When does the right to erasure not apply?

The right to erasure does not apply if processing is necessary for one of the following reasons:

  • to exercise the right of freedom of expression and information;
  • to comply with a legal obligation;
  • for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority;
  • for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific research historical research or statistical purposes where erasure is likely to render impossible or seriously impair the achievement of that processing; or
  • for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims.

The GDPR also specifies two circumstances where the right to erasure will not apply to special category data:

  • if the processing is necessary for public health purposes in the public interest (e.g. protecting against serious cross-border threats to health, or ensuring high standards of quality and safety of health care and of medicinal products or medical devices); or
  • if the processing is necessary for the purposes of preventative or occupational medicine (e.g. where the processing is necessary for the working capacity of an employee; for medical diagnosis; for the provision of health or social care; or for the management of health or social care systems or services). This only applies where the data is being processed by or under the responsibility of a professional subject to a legal obligation of professional secrecy (example: a health professional). 

How do we receive and recognise a request?

The GDPR does not specify how to make a valid request. Therefore, an individual can make a request for erasure verbally or in writing. It can also be made to any part of your organisation and does not have to be to a specific person or contact point.

A request does not have to include the phrase 'request for erasure' or Article 17 of the GDPR, as long as one of the conditions listed above apply.

This presents a challenge as any of your employees could receive a valid verbal request. However, you have a legal responsibility to identify that an individual has made a request to you and handle it accordingly. Therefore you may need to consider which of your staff who regularly interact with individuals may need specific training to identify a request.

Additionally, it is good practice to have a policy for recording details of the requests you receive, particularly those made by telephone or in person. You may wish to check with the requester that you have understood their request, as this can help avoid later disputes about how you have interpreted the request. We also recommend that you keep a log of verbal requests.

Can we charge a fee?

In most cases you cannot charge a fee to comply with a request for erasure. However, you can charge a “reasonable fee” for the administrative costs of complying with the request if it is manifestly unfounded or excessive. You should base the reasonable fee on the administrative costs of complying with the request.

If you decide to charge a fee you should contact the individual promptly and inform them. You do not need to comply with the request until you have received the fee. Alternatively, you can refuse to comply with a manifestly unfounded or excessive request.

How long do we have to comply?

You must comply with a request for erasure without undue delay and at the latest within one month of receipt of the request or (if later) within one month of receipt of:

  • any information requested to confirm the requester’s identity; or
  • a fee (only in certain circumstances)

You should calculate the time limit from the day you receive the request (whether it is a working day or not) until the corresponding calendar date in the next month.

Can we extend the time for a response?

You can extend the time to respond by a further two months if the request is complex or you have received a number of requests from the individual. You must let the individual know within one month of receiving their request and explain why the extension is necessary.

Can we ask an individual for ID?

If you have doubts about the identity of the person making the request you can ask for more information. However, it is important that you only request information that is necessary to confirm who they are. The key to this is proportionality. You should take into account what data you hold, the nature of the data, and what you are using it for.

You must let the individual know without undue delay and within one month that you need more information from them to confirm their identity. You do not need to comply with the request until you have received the additional information.