19 May 2023 - we have broken the Guide to the UK GDPR down into smaller guides. All the content stays the same.
Certification is a way for an organisation to demonstrate compliance with UK GDPR. Certification scheme criteria will be approved by the ICO and can cover a specific issue or be more general. Once an accredited certification body has assessed and approved an organisation, it will issue them with a certificate, and a seal or mark relevant to that scheme.
At a glance
- Certification is a way to demonstrate your compliance with the UK GDPR and enhance transparency.
- Certification criteria should reflect the needs of small and medium sized enterprises.
- Certification criteria are approved by the ICO and certification issued by accredited certification bodies.
- Certification will be issued to data controllers and data processors in relation to specific processing activities.
- Applying for certification is voluntary. However, if there is an approved certification scheme that covers your processing activity, you may wish to consider having your processing activities certified as it can help you demonstrate compliance to the regulator, the public and in your business to business relationships.
- What is the purpose of certification?
- Who is responsible for certification?
- What can be certified?
- What must certification scheme criteria contain?
- Why should we apply for certification of our processing?
- What are the practical implications for us?
- What happens next?
- Frequently asked questions
- In detail
- Certification scheme register
Certification is a way of demonstrating that your processing of personal data complies with the UK GDPR requirements, in line with the accountability principle. Certification can help demonstrate data protection in a practical way to businesses, individuals and regulators. Your customers can use certification as a means to quickly assess the level of data protection of your particular product, process or service, which provides transparency both for data subjects and in business to business relationships.
The UK GDPR says that certification is also a means to:
- demonstrate compliance with the provisions on data protection by design and by default (Article 25(3));
- demonstrate that you have appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure data security (Article 32(3)); and
- to support transfers of personal data to third countries or international organisations (Article 46(2)(f)).
The ICO encourages the use of data protection certification mechanisms as a means to enhance transparency and compliance with the UK GDPR.
The certification framework involves:
- us publishing accreditation requirements for certification bodies to meet;
- the UK’s national accreditation body, UKAS, accrediting certification bodies and maintaining a public register;
- us approving and publishing certification criteria;
- accredited certification bodies issuing certification against those criteria;
- controllers and processors applying for certification and using it to demonstrate compliance; and
- the ICO maintaining a public register of approved certification schemes.
The scope of a certification scheme could be quite general and be applied to a variety of different products, processes or services; or it could be specific, for example, secure storage and protection of personal data contained within a digital vault.
Certification will relate to specific personal data processing operations that take place in a product, process or service offered by a controller or processor. Those processing operations will be assessed against the certification criteria by the accredited certification body.
Certification can only be issued to data controllers and processors and cannot therefore be used to certify individuals, for example data protection officers.
Article 42(2) also allows for the use of certification schemes for the purpose of demonstrating the existence of appropriate safeguards provided by controllers or processors that are not subject to UK GDPR for international transfers of personal data.
Certification criteria must be:
- derived from UK GDPR principles and rules, as relevant to the scope of certification, ie:
- lawfulness of processing (Art 6-10)
- principles of data processing (Art 5)
- data subjects’ rights (Art 12-23)
- obligation to notify data breaches (Art 33)
- obligation of DP by design and default (Art 25)
- whether a DPIA has been completed where required (Art35(7)(d)
- technical and organisational measures put in placeto ensure security (Art 32);
- formulated in such a way that they are clear and allow practical application;
- auditable (ie specify objectives and how they can be achieved so as to demonstrate compliance);
- relevant to the target audience;
- inter-operable with other standards, for example ISO standards; and
- scalable for application to different size or type of organisations.
These conditions are outlined in full in our detailed guidance.
Once your organisation has been successfully assessed by the accredited certification body, you will be issued with a data protection certificate, seal or mark relevant to that scheme.
Applying for certification is voluntary. However, if there is an approved certification scheme that covers your processing activity, you may wish to consider working towards it as a way of demonstrating that you comply with the UK GDPR.
Certification provides a framework for you to follow, thereby helping ensure compliance and offering assurance that specific standards are being adhered to, for example in a processor to controller relationship.
Obtaining certification for your processing can also help you to:
- be more transparent and accountable - enabling businesses or individuals to distinguish which processing activities, operations and services meet UK GDPR data protection requirements and they can trust with their personal data;
- have a competitive advantage;
- create effective safeguards to mitigate the risk around data processing and the rights and freedoms of individuals;
- improve standards by establishing best practice;
- help with international transfers; and
- mitigate against enforcement action.
- As a controller or processor, you could obtain certification for your processing operations within your products, processes and services. Certification bodies will use independent assessors, giving an independent expert view on whether you meet the certification criteria. You will need to provide them with all the necessary information and access to your processing activities to enable them to conduct the certification procedure.
- Certification is valid for a maximum of three years, subject to periodic reviews. These independent reviews provide assurance that the certification can be trusted. However, certifications can be withdrawn if you no longer meet the certification criteria, and the certification body will notify us of this.
- Your customers can view your certification in a public register of certificates published by certification bodies.
- Certification can help you demonstrate compliance but does not reduce your wider data protection responsibilities outside the certified processing activity.
- When contracting work to third parties, you may wish to consider whether they hold a UK GDPR certificate for their processing operations, as part of meeting your due diligence requirements under the UK GDPR.
You can find details of approved certification schemes in the register of certification criteria. If there is a scheme that meets your needs, you should contact the relevant certification body who is accredited to operate the scheme.
We have published further information about how to apply for UK GDPR certification in our detailed guidance.
We have published answers to frequently asked questions relating to certification schemes.