Nixon Digital

A Comprehensive Guide to the 7 Data Protection Principles

Companies face daily challenges on how to deal with GDPR requirements. The proper processing and handling of personal data is not only an ethical responsibility, but also a legal obligation. If not complied with, it may lead to huge brand damage and a loss of customer trust. 

One of the main struggles is that the GDPR may seem like a long and chaotic policy that is written in complex language. You might think that you would need to seek help from an expert to understand it. However, all requirements of the GDPR are based on 7 basic principles. This means that if you understand these 7 data protection principles, you are a step closer to understanding and complying with the GDPR.

What are the 7 principles of the GDPR?

Here‚Äôs a handy summary: 

  1. Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency 
  2. Purpose limitation 
  3. Data minimization 
  4. Accuracy 
  5. Storage limitations 
  6. Integrity, confidentiality and availability
  7. Accountability 

In this blog, we will explain the meaning of each principle. 

How do you know if GDPR applies to you? ‚Äč

Let‚Äôs hypothetically say that your company is about to launch a new form on your website to sign up for a preview release of a new feature. Your users will be able to sign up by filling out the form, and you will start registering their data (for example, their names, addresses, job titles, and so on), also called a database with a third party. Furthermore, if you load any third-party technologies which use cookies on your website, then the GDPR applies. 

As you continue reading, keep this example in mind, as we will be using it to illustrate the 7 data protection principles outlined in the GDPR. It is worth noting that these principles are applicable in many other situations. Therefore, you should adapt the concepts discussed in this article to your own specific practices. This could include scenarios like running a contest, organizing an employee event, or managing a database of your business contacts. Moreover, keep in mind that GDPR is only for companies with a European target audience. Countries outside the EU may apply other local regulations. 

We hope you are ready to dive deeper into the 7 principles of GDPR.  

1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency ‚Äč

Alright, we mentioned principle 1, but there are three principles here. Rest assured; this is the only principle that contains multiple key concepts. Let’s clarify, the first principle tells us that the processing of personal data must be conducted in a lawful, fair, and transparent way. Let’s break it down.

Lawful stands for collecting and processing data with a legitimate legal foundation. For example, obtaining user consent to process their data is a widely used method of establishing a legal basis for handling personal data. The GDPR offers numerous legal justifications for processing personal data. 

Fair implies that your handling of personal data is in the user‚Äôs best interests. Make sure that you are not using their data in other ways that were not initially intended. 

Transparency stands for effectively stating the whathow, and why of your data processing to the users whose data you are handling. This communication should be designed to enable the audience to readily grasp the extent and procedures of your processing. 

How does this apply to our example?¬†‚Äč

Lawfulness
Forms frequently collect the names and email addresses of individuals who register. To do this legally, you can obtain consent from users, for instance, allow them to grant consent through a checkbox. Equally important is offering users the option to restrict data collection to only what is necessary. For instance, consider whether you truly need a person‚Äôs job title, and be ready to provide compelling reasons if you do. Additionally, it is essential to document when and how consent was granted in case you are asked to provide this information. 

Fairness
The data you process must also align with the principle of fairness. For instance, if your company specializes in selling products, your customers will expect to receive information about new products or related blog posts. Do not misuse this customer database by sending emails that are unrelated or unexpected based on the original intent. 

Transparency
Lastly, it is important to be transparent by clearly communicating how and why you process data. Remember, individuals whose data you collect, known as ‚Äúdata subjects‚ÄĚ under the GDPR, have the right to know what information is being collected about them and why it is being processed. To ensure transparency, you can have a clear privacy policy on your website and provide easy access to your organization‚Äôs Data Protection Officer (DPO) for any questions or concerns from your subscribers. 

2. Purpose limitation ‚Äč

This principle emphasizes that you should exclusively process personal data for the initial purpose you had in mind. In simpler terms, it means refraining from using personal data for other purposes. 

How does this apply to our example?¬†‚Äč

The data you collect through your form should only be used for the specific purposes you have mentioned. For instance, if you say that you are keeping users IP addresses just to follow GDPR rules, then do not use those IP addresses to send them personalized content. That would be using their data for a different reason. 

When it comes to handling personal data, your team needs to be cautious. Make sure they do not accidentally use data in a way that breaks the rules. 

3. Data minimization ‚Äč

When it comes to data, companies often tend to collect and store more than they actually need. They hold onto things just because they seem useful, even if they never end up using them. However, in line with article three of the GDPR, it is important to minimize data retention. 

This principle advises not to accumulate personal data beyond what is essential for providing the service. In simpler terms, only collect and process the precise amount of data that is required.

How does this apply to our example?¬†‚Äč

In our example, it means only getting the important information you need for the form. For instance, you need names and email addresses, but you do not really need to know their job titles. By doing this, you not only comply with GDPR regulations but also minimize the risk in case of a data breach. 

4. Accuracy‚Äč

This principle may seem a bit different from the others we have seen so far. While the previous principles were all about knowing as little as possible about people’s data, this one is about making sure the data we do have is completely accurate and up-to-date. As the person responsible for the data, you should take reasonable steps to ensure this accuracy. Only do this if it is important for the person the data belongs to. 

How does this apply to our example?¬†‚Äč

Let‚Äôs break it down with our example. Suppose your users initially signed up to the form with their work email at company X. Later, they change jobs and start working at company Y, so their old email from company X does not work anymore. 

To handle this properly, you could add a link in your form that allows subscribers to update their email addresses. That way, when people expect a job change, they can easily keep their information accurate. If you discover that the data you have is wrong or outdated, there is no reason to keep it. You should either update it or delete it. 

5. Storage limitations‚Äč

This principle is about deleting personal data when it is no longer needed. Keeping unnecessary data goes against this principle. Having a secure data destruction process ensures that data which is no longer needed is completely erased and does not pose a security risk.

How does this apply to our example?¬†‚Äč

In our example, complying with storage limitations means deleting data of unsubscribed individuals. As well as, erasing subscriber data if you stop collecting data via the form. Data should align with its intended purpose. Exceptions, like retaining data for historical or statistical purposes, require careful consideration. 

6. Integrity, confidentiality and availability‚Äč

If you are familiar with cybersecurity or information security, you have likely come across the ‚ÄėCIA Triangle.‚Äô It represents three critical aspects: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. This principle specifically addresses two sides of that triangle: Integrity, which ensures the accuracy and protection of personal data against manipulation (e.g., safeguarding against hackers), and Confidentiality, which ensures that only authorized individuals‚Äô access and process the personal data. Lastly, availability refers to having access to the data in moments of need.

How does it apply to our example?

In our example, this means that restricted personnel will have access to the data collected. Ensure data security and prevent tampering, avoid storing subscriber data on openly accessible drives and protect against cyber threats.  

7. Accountability ‚Äč

This principle is about taking ownership of your data processing responsibilities. As the data controller or processor, you are responsible for handling personal data correctly and following GDPR regulations. Taking responsibility means not only meeting GDPR requirements but also keeping proper documentation to prove your compliance. 

How does this apply to our example?¬†‚Äč

If you rely on consent as the legal basis for processing personal data from your form to ensure compliance with the lawfulness principle, you must keep records of how and when this consent was obtained. To achieve this, you need a system that logs consent. Check out our OneTrust solution to solve this problem.

Another example is Principle 2 of GDPR, which requires both organizational and technical measures. This principle involves training employees to use personal data only for its intended purpose. By providing and documenting this training, you demonstrate compliance with GDPR requirements. 

Key takeaway ‚Äč

In conclusion, the GDPR can be overwhelming due to its complexity. We hope our insights have made it easier to understand. We also stressed the significance of your staff in achieving GDPR compliance. Since they handle personal data regularly, it’s crucial to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to manage it properly. Find out how Nixon Digital can ensure proper GDPR compliance.