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Latest updates - last updated 11 April 2024

11 April 2024 - We have added a new section about PECR.

21 August 2023 - We have added "Who is the controller for information entered on an external mobile application?" to the Controllers or processors? section.


Is it personal data?

Q. Is a number plate - also known as a vehicle registration mark (VRM)- considered personal data?

Context: The business is planning to use drones and other video camera technology, to monitor road traffic to measure rates of pollution. This would involve capturing VRMs.

Answer: Yes - a VRM is personal data if it can be combined with other information that then distinguishes and allows for the identification of an individual.

Depending on why the VRM is being collected and used (the purpose), will determine whether it is considered personal data. For example, if the business monitored the length of time cars spend inside and outside of defined spaces, this may require linking the VRMs with other information and thus the singling out of individuals. Even if the business did not have access to, for example the DVLA registered keepers database, the business are still likely to be able to identify individual vehicles, their age and where they were registered.

Next steps:

  • Consider the definition of personal data under UK GDPR.
  • Consider if the VRM can be combined with other information that allows for an individual to be identified.
  • Consider the purpose of processing the VRM.
  • Decide if VRMs are anonymous in the context of your purposes.
  • Decide if you need to complete a DPIA.

Additional advice:

If the information is made available to third parties, the purpose of the processing by the third party will determine whether the VRMs are personal information.

Controllers and processors

Q. Are the providers of deep learning AI solutions processors or controllers?

Context: A UK business (Business ABC) wanted to know whether a third-party supplier offering a deep learning AI solution to them would be considered a processor or a controller for the purpose of providing an artificial intelligence led service to their customers.

Answer: If the third-party supplier (the AI developer) acts under ‘Business ABC’s’ instruction they are a processor.

If the AI solution provider processes personal data for any other reason than what they have been instructed to do, or where domestic law requires them to do so, then they will be a controller or joint-controller for this processing. For example, where they process personal data to build another model.

Next steps:


Q: Who is the controller for information entered on an external mobile application?

Context: The organisation is in the health sector and want to make use of external mobile applications to assist with monitoring of and making clinical decisions about patients’ chronic conditions. The organisation advises they have limited control over what personal information is entered onto the applications.

Answer: It is likely that the organisation will be a controller for the information a patient enters onto a mobile application if they are recommending the use of these to patients, or agreeing to view and use the information entered onto them for clinical purposes. The organisation has made the decision to make use of the apps, and will be using the personal information entered upon them to make decisions about the patients as a result.

The relationship between the organisation and the provider of the app could come under a number of different controller relationships. Whether an organisation is a controller, joint controller or processor will depend on the specific use of personal information.

If the app provider will not be using the information for their own purposes, and are merely processing this on behalf of another organisation, then they will qualify as a processor, even if they have determined some non-essential means of processing.

If the app provider are looking to use the information for their own purposes, this may be either a controller to controller relationship, or they may be joint controllers with the organisation. To be joint controllers, the app provider and the organisation will need to be processing for the same or closely linked purposes, and have jointly determined how and why they are using the personal information. If they do not have jointly determined purposes and means, but the app provider intends to use the personal information for their own purposes, then they would be a separate controller.

Organisations should ensure they have assessed the risks and benefits of the use of any external applications and will need to ensure the appropriate data sharing agreements or contracts are in place, depending on whether the app provider is a processor, controller or joint controller. 

Next steps:


Q. Would a company that develops AI software be a controller or processor for information shared with it by a service user?


The organisation would like to use an AI service to help their clients. The AI service would like to use the information shared by the organisation to improve the AI system. The AI service believes they are joint controllers with the organisation, so they would be able to use the information in this way. However, the primary organisation believe that the AI service is a processor.


Organisations can be controllers, joint controllers or processors depending on their role in the use of personal information.

Organisations should consider to what extent the purposes of the processing have been jointly determined, and to what extent any purposes of processing are separate and distinct. If an organisation and their AI service provider have made a joint determination as to the processing activities, they may be joint controllers.

If, however, the organisation is determining how the information shared is used, and the AI service is acting under instruction, the AI service provider is likely to be a processor.

If the AI service provider wants to use the information shared to train their model, and the original organisation is not involved in this, the AI service provider would be a separate controller. They would need to ensure this processing is lawful, and in compliance with the UK GDPR.

Whichever roles the organisation and AI service provider occupy should be set out in agreements drafted before any sharing takes place. Controllers and processors should have a written contract in place. If data sharing is taking place between two controllers, a data sharing agreement is recommended. This should set out how the AI service provider can use the information shared with them for any processing which is beyond the scope of the controller/processor relationship.

Next steps:


Q: Who is the controller for dashcam footage hosted by the vehicle manufacturer?

Context: A car manufacturer wants to add functionality to the cameras on a vehicle and will host these recordings on their servers. The manufacturer has put restrictions on how often the new functions can be used by the customer, and have decided how long they will keep the recordings before they are deleted. The manufacturer however does not have a purpose for accessing the footage, and are wanting to know whether they or their customer would be the controller for these recordings.  

Answer: A controller is the entity which is making decisions about the means and purposes of the data processing. This includes decisions such as setting retention periods, deciding how information will be stored, and ensuring appropriate security measures are implemented.

As the manufacturer is setting the retention periods, and putting limitations on the use of the cameras, it is likely that they will be a controller for the recordings.  

An individual who processes personal data for ‘purely personal or household activity’ will not be subject to UK GDPR, and therefore will not have controllership obligations. As such, if a customer is using the dashcam footage only for personal use, the UK GDPR will not apply, and they will not be a controller. 

There are situations in which a customer could be a controller for a dashcam recording. Controllership will depend on what they do with a particular recording, and whether this is beyond ‘purely personal’ usage. For example; 

  • If a customer posted the footage online so it was publicly available (available beyond their friends and family), this would no longer be purely personal use, and the UK GDPR would apply.
  • If the vehicle isn’t just used privately, and is used to carry out business, the UK GDPR would apply to the business’s processing of the dashcam footage. 

If a customer were to become a controller, their purposes would likely be separate and distinct from the manufacturer. This would mean they are likely to be separate controllers, not joint controllers, or controller and processor. 

As the manufacturer is likely to be the controller, they should think about what safeguards they can put in place to minimise any risks that their cameras’ new functionalities pose.

Next steps


Lawful basis

Q. What lawful basis should we rely on and what privacy enhancing techniques should we use when collecting, processing and storing employee diversity data?


The organisation is planning voluntary employee diversity monitoring surveys in-house. The surveys will not collect any directly identifiable information (eg employee names) but the organisation is concerned that - if the information collected is combined with information it already holds about employees – it might identify them. As some of the data collected will be special category data, the organisation wants to ensure it uses the right lawful bases and understand how to effectively anonymise or pseudonymise the data.


Lawful basis

If the organisation can demonstrate that they meet the conditions for valid consent, they can rely on consent as their Article 6 lawful basis, and explicit consent as the condition for the processing of special category data.

However, there is a power imbalance in the employer-employee relationship. Employees may feel obligated to agree to the processing as they’re concerned about negative impacts if they don’t. Organisations need to be conscious of this when relying on consent to process employee information and take steps to ensure that the employee does not feel any pressure to consent. They should also allay any concerns over the consequences of refusing consent.

If the organisation is unable to demonstrate valid consent, it could rely on legitimate interests as the Article 6 lawful basis and substantial public interests for the processing of special category data.

Choosing which lawful basis applies depends on your specific purposes and the context of the processing. For example, your purpose may relate to a legal obligation or performing your public tasks.

Privacy protections

Our draft guidance on anonymisation explains that data protection law does not require anonymisation to be completely risk-free. However, you must be able to mitigate the risk of re-identification until it is sufficiently remote that the information is ‘effectively anonymised’.

Anonymisation means that individuals are not identifiable and cannot be re-identified by any means reasonably likely to be used. Anonymisation processes should take into account the concept of identifiability in its broadest sense, and should not simply focus on removing obvious information that clearly relates to someone. The removal of direct identifiers such as a name or an identification number is insufficient to ensure effective anonymisation.

If the organisation can identify an individual by combining the survey information with other data it holds – the information is pseudonymous not anonymous. This means the survey data is subject to data protection legislation and the organisation should consider encrypting the information and using privacy enhancing technologies (PETs). These could include pseudonymisation techniques to reduce the risk of processing, meaning the organisation could use the data for things such as statistical analysis.

Next steps

Lawful basis

Privacy protections


Q. Is legitimate interests and substantial public interests an appropriate lawful basis and condition for processing special category data for biometric multi-factor authentication?


The organisation would like to change from consent as their lawful basis, and explicit consent for processing special category data to legitimate interests and substantial public interest respectively. They would like to do this to reduce the risk of fraud to their customers.

Answer: Organisations must determine their lawful basis before they start processing, and that they should not swap to another basis without a good reason. If there is a genuine change in circumstance or there is a new and unanticipated purpose which means there is a good reason to review the lawful basis, an organisation must be able to document and justify this.

Before using legitimate interests as a lawful basis, we recommend that organisations complete a legitimate interest assessment (LIA).

In order to rely on legitimate interests an organisation must undertake a three part test:

  • Identify a legitimate interest(s),
  • Demonstrate that the processing is necessary to achieve it, (ie it’s a targeted and proportionate way of achieving your purpose); and,
  • Balance the identified legitimate interest against the individual’s individual interests, rights and freedoms.
    The organisation must be able to satisfy all three parts of the test before they start relying on legitimate interests.

In this case, the recitals of the UK GDPR state that fraud prevention could constitute a legitimate interest.

However, an organisation needs to demonstrate that the use of biometric MFA is proportionate and adequately targeted in order to pass the ‘necessity’ test.

In order to rely on substantial public interest as a condition for processing special category (in this case, biometric) data, an organisation must demonstrate its necessity and why consent is not suitable. This would mean making a specific arguments about the wider benefits of the processing rather than a vague or generic public interest argument. An organisation could consider how the processing benefits the public experience from the processing, and the volume of people benefiting from the processing, for example.

Next steps:


Q: Would consent be an appropriate lawful basis for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) operated cameras in care home bedrooms?


An organisation wants to install cameras in the private rooms of care home residents. These cameras will use AI to alert staff to falls or potential falls. They would like to rely on consent and explicit consent in order to do this.

Answer: Valid consent has to be a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of an individuals wishes. Therefore, consent can only be valid if people are given a genuine choice, and are not placed at a disadvantage if they refuse.

Where consent by a resident is refused, the cameras could be turned off in that particular room. However, any visitors or staff members entering private rooms would also need to agree to the use of the cameras. If staff refuse consent they may not be able to perform their duties and if visitors refuse they may not get to visit the resident. Therefore, these groups would be placed at a disadvantage if they refuse consent.

The cameras would capture information about the health of residents, as well as biometric data of individuals. Therefore, the organisation would also need to have a separate condition for processing special category data – in this case, explicit consent. In order to rely on explicit consent, they need to demonstrate that the use of the cameras to monitor residents for falls is necessary and proportionate. As with consent, explicit consent must be clear and freely given. Due to the power imbalance between the organisation and the residents, staff, and visitors, it is unlikely that explicit consent would be appropriate.

If an organisation decides not to rely on consent or explicit consent, they would need to identify a different lawful basis and condition for processing special category data. However, in order to rely on these the organisation would need to demonstrate that the use of these cameras in this way is necessary and proportionate. This means that if they can reasonably monitor their residents for falls and accidents using a less intrusive means they would not have a lawful basis for using the cameras.

For example, one alternative lawful basis could be legitimate interests. This can be used where it is in the legitimate interests of the organisation to use cameras in this way, but the organisation’s interests do not override the interests of the residents, staff and visitors.

Therefore, the organisation could only rely on this if they can demonstrate that:

  • the use of the cameras is a necessary and proportionate way of monitoring their residents; and
  • the use does not infringe on the rights and freedoms of those captured by the cameras.

Next steps:


Q. What is an appropriate lawful basis for flagging information about vulnerable individuals?


The organisation is looking to use data clean room technology to help their clients share information about vulnerable customers. This would help these organisations exercise their duty of care obligations more effectively.


If an organisation is considering relying on consent when handling customer information, they must make sure the consent is freely given, specific and informed. An individual must understand what they are agreeing to. If they do not understand, the consent would not be valid. As this question relates to vulnerable customers, there is a chance that some customers may not be able to provide valid consent.

Where there is a statutory obligation to protect vulnerable customers, an organisation could rely on the ‘legal obligation’ lawful basis. This applies where the obligation is laid down by UK law, but does not mean it has to be an explicit statutory obligation. Where there are regulatory requirements that have a statutory basis underpinning the obligation, this would qualify as a legal obligation.

Where an organisation is able to balance their interests against those of vulnerable individuals, they could rely on legitimate interests. The organisation should perform a balancing test to demonstrate that they have considered the interests, rights and freedoms of the individuals. They should document this in a legitimate interest assessment (LIA).

Where the information includes special category data, organisations also need an additional condition under Article 9 of the UK GDPR. In the case of information about vulnerable individuals, it is likely that some special category data, such as details about health, would be used. Conditions that an organisation could use include explicit consent or substantial public interest, for example. There is, however, no equivalent to legitimate interests included in this list. For criminal offence data, a similar obligation to identify an additional condition applies under Article 10.

Next steps



Is this direct marketing?

Q: Would telling customers about our online fraud prevention tool be direct marketing, and therefore fall under the scope of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)?


The organisation has created a browser extension that verifies their clients’ websites as being legitimate, to protect customers against fraud. Their clients are not sure how they can let their customers know about the tool, as it may constitute direct marketing under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. The organisation also wants to know about any other compliance requirements under PECR.


Direct marketing

Whether a communication falls under the definition of direct marketing will depend on the method by which the message is sent to a customer, and the tone, content and context of the message itself.

Direct marketing must be “directed to” particular individuals or categories of people. As such, adverts or messaging shown indiscriminately to all users of a website would not constitute direct marketing, and therefore the marketing rules would not apply. Organisations can therefore consider advertising products in this way, without needing to consider the marketing rules under the PECR.

If the communication will be directed towards particular individuals or categories of people, ie via email, telephone or text, then the content of the message itself will determine whether the PECR applies. If the message is neutral in tone, and presents a range of options that customers can take to protect themselves online, then it would be unlikely to constitute direct marketing, providing there are no other elements of the communication advertising other products and services. If however the communication focusses largely on a particular product, and is encouraging customers to buy or use this, it is likely to be direct marketing.

If the communication will be direct marketing, you will need to be aware of the marketing rules that apply to the type of marketing you wish to carry out, and ensure you have appropriate consent.

PECR Regulation 6 requirements

Aside from regulating direct marketing practices, the PECR also regulates the use of cookies and similar technologies that either store or gain access to information on a user’s device.

If your product will be using these technologies, you are required to tell your users what cookies or technologies are present, explain what they are doing and the purposes for these, before storing or accessing any information on their device.

You will also need to gain consent from your users to access or store information on their device if this is not strictly necessary to be able to provide the function of your extension. Strictly necessary means that it must be essential, and limited to what is essential to provide the service that the product offers; it does not cover any other uses that you may wish to use the data for. This consent must be gained before the storage of or access to any information on their device by means of a clear affirmative action, such as an opt-in.

The PECR and the UK GDPR work alongside each other, so it is important to be aware of any data protection obligations you may also have. If users of your online service can be singled out using information such as their IP addresses, cookie identifiers or MAC addresses, either on their own or in combination with other information, then your processing must also comply with UK GDPR. This is the case even if you cannot link the user to a named, real-world individual.

Next steps

Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations

Review the ICO’s Direct marketing guidance and make sure appropriate consent is sought for marketing activities

Review the ICO’s guidance on Cookies and similar technologies.

Personal data

Review the ICO’s guidance on What are identifiers and related factors?

Lawful basis in generative AI

Q. Would “legitimate interests” be a suitable lawful basis when using generative AI systems to help draft responses to clients and prospective clients?

Context: The organisation wants to use a generative AI tool to draft responses to emails, which will then by reviewed by a member of staff. In some cases these emails may contain special category data.

Answer: To rely on legitimate interests, organisations must demonstrate that the use of generative AI tools is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests they have identified, except where the legitimate interest is overridden by individuals’ interests, rights or freedoms. This requires the organisation to demonstrate that the use of generative AI tools is proportionate, and would not infringe on the rights of their clients or prospective clients.

Consent may also be an appropriate lawful basis where organisations have a direct relationship with the individuals whose information they want to process. When relying on consent, an organisation must ensure that it is freely given, specific, informed, and involve an unambiguous opt-in. They would also need to make it easy for individuals to withdraw consent at any time.

If processing contains special category data, the organisation must ensure it has a second condition for processing in place, as required by Article 9 of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR). Based on the use of the generative AI tool in this case, a suitable Article 9 condition could be explicit consent.

As well as the conditions required for consent outlined above, explicit consent also requires specific confirmation through a clear statement that is separate from any other consents. We would recommend that an organisation looking to rely on consent and explicit consent does not include the explicit consent request within their contracts. Consent should also not be a requirement of using the service.

Next steps:

Restricted transfers

Q. What are the rules on international (restricted) transfers when using third-party suppliers based in the USA?

Context: The organisation provides a suite of revision services to students, and is looking to work with two companies (Company A and Company B) based in the USA to deliver these services. Company A provide access codes to the organisation who pass these to the students. The students then use these codes to set up a profile with Company A to access the revision services. The organisation will share personal information about their clients directly to Company B.

Answer: Even though personal information is not provided directly to Company A by the UK organisation, this would still be a restricted transfer. This is because the UK organisation’s customers enter into a contract with them only, and they remain the controller for the customer’s information. It is the organisation’s choice to use Company A’s services, not the customers.

As the information is transferred directly from the organisation to Company B, this would also be a restricted transfer.

As the USA is not currently covered by an adequacy agreement, appropriate safeguards are required when completing these transfers. Organisations must consider the safeguards and exceptions available under data protection legislation before agreeing to send personal information to countries not covered by an adequacy agreement. One way of ensuring these safeguards are in place is to use standard data protection clauses. These are clauses included in contracts between two organisations that impose obligations on both organisations to ensure personal information is protected. These can be imposed through the use of international data transfer agreements (IDTAs).

The first step in using standard data protection clauses is to complete a transfer risk assessment. This should help determine whether the personal information transferred will continue to be protected in line with UK data protection rules. It should be noted that transfers should only be used where necessary. If there is a way of achieving the same outcome without transferring personal information (eg by using anonymised information) this should be completed.

Next steps:

Note: This advice was written before qualifying transfers to the USA were covered by the UK Extension to the EU-US Data Privacy Framework. More information about this can be found in our guidance on international transfers. The advice given here would still apply to information organisations wish to transfer to third countries and organisations not covered by adequacy regulations.


Q. Does processing personal data of overseas employees of third party UK organisations count as a restricted transfer?

Context: The organisation processes payment data from a number of organisations and is looking to update their platform. For most processing activities the organisation acts as a processor. However, they act as a controller where data is collected about employees of organisations using their system. Although the new system will be for UK organisations, some employees may be based outside the UK.

Answer: Where an organisation receives personal information from a third party, transfer rules under the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) (Article 44) do not apply. The rules contained in the UK GDPR regarding the transfer of personal data apply only when personal information is transferred by a controller or processor to a separate organisation located outside of the UK.

In this case, a UK organisation will share employee details with the organisation that submitted the question for the purposes of accessing the primary organisation’s services. If the UK organisation’s offices located in the third countries are part of the same legal entity, and the UK GDPR is in scope because the processing activity is an activity of a UK establishment, it is unlikely to be a restricted transfer.

Next steps:

Special category data

Q. Could payment data be seen as special category data where it relates to payments to or from certain categories of organisation (eg political party, health organisation or trade union)?

Context: The organisation processes payment data from a number of financial organisations and is looking to update their platform.

Answer: Where payments are made to or from organisations, such as health organisations or trade unions, it may be possible to infer details about a person related to special category data. However, this would only count as special category data if the inference can be drawn with a reasonable degree of certainty, and where it is deliberately made. We would also consider this special category data if the inferences are used to treat an individual differently.

In the case of payment data as described to us here, there is not enough information collected to say with certainty what the payments are for, and the organisation is not deliberately seeking to make inferences about individuals, nor does it influence their activities in any way. Therefore, this is not special category data, and there is no need to identify an Article 9 condition to use payment data.

Next steps:

• Review our guidance on special category data

Cloud storage

Q. Are there any measures you should consider when storing data in the cloud?

Context: The organisation processes payment data from a number of organisations and is looking to update their platform.

Answer: The ICO has published cloud computing guidance which outlines what an organisation should consider when using a cloud service. The ICO has also published updated guidance on security and encryption requirements under the UK General Data Protection Regulation. This will to help organisations understand their responsibilities when storing information in the cloud, as well as provide guidance on security and effective encryption requirements.

There are also requirements for the use of cloud systems under the Network and Information System (NIS) Regulations. These regulations are designed to oversee the NIS Regulations. These are designed to address the threats posed to network and information systems, and in doing so ensure that the digital economy can function efficiently.

Any organisation that offers something-as-a-service should review the NIS Regulations to see whether they need to comply with them.

Next steps:

Data sharing

Q. Can personal data be shared with a company for the purpose of improving the performance of an artificial intelligence model?

Context: The organisation that submitted this request is looking to use an artificial intelligence (AI) powered Microsoft Word Add-In that can help with a variety of tasks. They want to know whether they would be able to share information outside of the model, not where the model learns as the software is used. The information that may be shared could include both special category data and criminal offence data, so is particularly sensitive.

Answer: By data sharing we mean the disclosure of data from one or more organisations to a third party organisation or organisations.

Data protection law facilitates data sharing when it is fair and proportionate.

  • The accountability principle means you are responsible for compliance, and must be able to demonstrate compliance.
  • Personal data must be shared fairly and transparently.
  • You must identify at least one lawful basis for sharing information before you start any sharing.
    Before sharing personal data, an organisation needs to ensure that the information they share will only be used for a specified purpose, that it will be stored securely, and will not keep it for any longer than necessary.

    If an organisation is able to anonymise the information, or remove identifiable information from the documents shared, then they should do so. This would minimise the personal data shared and therefore reduce any risks.

If an organisation is unable to effectively anonymise the information, or needs to include personal data in the information they share, the ICO’s data sharing code of practice recommends the use of ‘data sharing agreements’. These set out the purpose of the data sharing, cover what happens to the data at each stage, set standards and help all the parties involved in sharing to be clear about their roles and responsibilities.

Next steps:


Q. How much detail should be revealed when sharing information in data clean rooms?


The organisation is looking to use data clean room technology to help their clients share information about vulnerable customers. This would help these organisations exercise their duty of care obligations more effectively.


When looking to share information, organisations should consider what is necessary to achieve their purposes. This should be in line with the data minimisation principle, which states that personal data should be: “adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed”.

When using data clean rooms to share information between organisations about vulnerable customers, the list each organisation shares should be kept separate. Each organisation should only be able to access their own list of customers. Instead, the data clean room will be able to confirm when organisations have information about the same customer when queried.

However, the organisation operating the clean room should be mindful of the risks that customers could be identified, such as by linking the vulnerability data with other available information held by the organisation. Organisations should also be mindful of risks of inferring identity. For example, if an individual had a unique set of characteristics that would allow for them to be singled-out.

Risks of linking the data and inferring identity should be mitigated through the adoption of appropriate technical and organisational measures. Suitable techniques may include private set intersection or homomorphic encryption. These will help reduce the risk of identification and keep the data held secure, which will, in turn, help you comply with the data protection principles.

Next steps:


Q. Would current data sharing agreements be sufficient if the intended recipients are not listed under the existing agreements?


The organisation would like to use information from a shared multi-organisation database to create risk rankings, and share these with a third party, to help protect vulnerable service users. These rankings will not be linked to individual names, but rather to “Unique Property Reference Numbers” (UPRNs). There are current sector specific data sharing agreements in place for the information on this database . However, the proposed recipients are not listed in these agreements.


The UK GDPR defines personal data as: “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person”. Therefore, even though individuals are not identified by name, the rankings shared would still constitute personal data, as individuals could be identifiable.

When considering if current data sharing agreements would cover the creation and sharing of risk rankings, organisations need to assess whether the new use is compatible with its previous use. This is in line with the “purpose limitation” principle. This principle states that information must be “collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes”.

Organisations should carry out a compatibility assessment to determine whether they can use the information on the database to calculate risk scores. If the information they use in these calculations is received from other organisations, it would be good practice to inform them of this change.

When sharing personal information with third parties, it is good practice to have a data sharing agreement in place. The agreement should identify all the organisations that will be involved in the data sharing, and contain procedures for including additional organisations in the data sharing.

If the agreement an organisation has in place does not adequately cover the new sharing, or the organisations they would like to share with, the agreement should be reviewed and updated accordingly.

Our data sharing code of practice outlines the steps you should take and the things you should consider when sharing personal data with third party organisations. This includes a template and checklist for data sharing agreements.

Next steps:

Effective anonymisation

Q. How can we ensure that free text information is effectively anonymised so that it can be shared with researchers?

Context: The organisation is planning to share anonymised free text information with researchers. They plan to use technical measures to ensure at least 95% of labelled identifiers are removed, with manual checks and other measures in place to ensure that the remaining information is adequately anonymised. However, they would like advice on any additional measures that they can put in place.

Answer: When looking to anonymise personal data, organisations need to consider the likelihood of reidentification based on factors such as what the information is being used for, costs and time required to identify, the available technologies, and the state of technological development over time. Therefore, in order to effectively anonymise information, organisations need to remove anything that could be used to identify a person. This could be their name, address, date of birth, or an identification number, for example.

Organisations should also consider whether they need to remove information about people’s appearance, mental capacity, or social identity. This information could be used to reidentify individuals, particularly where outliers may exist. Depending on how gender and ethnicity are defined in records, this could be used to single out individuals.

One way of reducing the risk of reidentification could be to group some information, such as age, such that the exact information is not provided within the records. We recommend that organisations review how information that could be used to identify individuals could be aggregated or altered to mask identification.

As well as anonymising information, we recommend the use of “motivated intruder” tests, with trained staff members attempting to identify individuals from the anonymised records. Organisations should ensure that when these tests are carried out, their testers have access to all the resources an attacker would be able to access. This could include internal databases.

We recommend that organisations conduct regular checks on the effectiveness of their anonymisation process. New techniques for reidentifying individuals within datasets may be developed at any time, and new information is regularly made available. These checks will help keep processes up to date and effective.

Next steps:


Subject access requests

Q. When can an organisation rely on exemptions for research, serious harm, or manifestly unfounded or excessive requests when responding to subject access requests (SARs)?


The organisation are planning to set up a trusted research environment (TRE) to support their research programme. They will collect a large amount of information from participants, which could include information about their health. They expect to engage with a large number of participants, and are concerned that the number of subject access requests they could receive could impact on their ability to respond within timescales set out in the legislation.


The UK GDPR and DPA18 outline several exemptions that could be applied when an individual submits an information request.

There are specific restrictions on disclosing an individual’s health data as part of a SAR response, if this information is not already known to them. Health data can only be released after a suitable health professional has indicated that the individual will not suffer serious harm if the information is provided. This opinion must have been provided within the six months prior to the request.

There is an exemption to the right of access specifically related to research. This applies where providing information in response to the request would prevent or seriously impair the research in question. Organisations must ensure that appropriate safeguards for individual rights and freedoms are in place, and that they are not using the results to make decisions about individuals, before they consider using this exemption.

A request can also be refused if it is manifestly unfounded or excessive. Like the exemptions, organisations need to review each request on a case by case basis before they can refuse for these reasons.

A manifestly unfounded request is one that is made by someone who has made it clear that they do not really want to exercise their rights, or who has made a request just to harass or disrupt an organisation.

In order for a request to be excessive, the nature and context of the request should be taken into account. For example, a request that overlaps with or largely repeats a previous request may be considered excessive. A request for a large amount of information should not be automatically considered to be excessive.

Next steps


Data clean rooms

Q. Can data clean rooms be used to compare lists of vulnerable customers?


The organisation is looking to use data clean room technology to help their clients share information about vulnerable customers. This would help these organisations exercise their duty of care obligations more effectively.


The use of a data clean room could help organisations comply with the data minimisation principle, and demonstrate the use of data protection by design and default.

The data minimisation principle states that personal data should be: “adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed”. Any organisation operating a data clean room should ensure that only the information necessary is shared between participating organisations.

Data protection by design and default means that an organisation should put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure the data protection principles are effectively met. It also means that organisations should integrate safeguards into their processing so that they meet the UK GDPR’s requirements and protect individual rights. Any organisation looking to develop clean room technology for this purpose should ensure that this use is built with data protection by design and default in mind.

When facilitating the sharing of information between multiple organisations, we recommend the use of data sharing agreements. These agreements outline why the data is being shared, what happens to the data at each stage, and sets standards for the use of the data. They help clarify the roles and responsibilities for organisations in the data sharing process. By using data sharing agreements, the developer of a data clean room should be satisfied that those using the technology only use it in line with the data protection principles.

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Biometric data

Q. Would images captured by an AI enabled camera constitute biometric data?


The organisation would like to use AI software to flag when there has been an accident and an individual needs help. The distance between the cameras and the area being reviewed is large and the staff are required to wear PPE, so individual identification is unlikely. The software is designed to flag when a human-shaped object has been involved in an accident and will not be used to identify individuals.


The UK GDPR describes biometric data as “data resulting from specific technical processing relating to the physical, physiological or behavioural characteristics of a natural person, which allow or confirm the unique identification of that natural person”. Examples of this include, but are not limited to, facial recognition or fingerprint data.

Images of people do not automatically count as biometric data, even if individuals can be identified. Images become biometric data after ‘specific technical processing’ is carried out. For example, where a template or profile is created to allow for the use of facial recognition technology.

As the images are not of good enough quality to identify individuals, and the purpose of the software is to help with rescues, not identification, it is unlikely that this would be considered biometric data.

As with all decisions organisations make about processing personal data, organisations using this software should document why they do not believe this use would constitute biometric data. If the use of this software changes in the future, this documentation should be reviewed and modified as required.

Next steps:

Review our guidance on biometric data

Children’s data

Q. What would constitute a “compelling reason” for updating default settings for children?


An organisation is updating their recommender systems and would like guidance on whether factors such as oversight from adult account holders, editorial controls and regulatory oversight would constitute a “compelling reason” for turning the system on by default for children. There would still be an option to opt out, but the organisation feel that the application of the system would be in the best interest of the child and therefore comply with the Children’s Code.


The first standard of the Children’s Code states: “The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration when you design and develop online services likely to be accessed by a child.”

This means that any changes to services should consider the interests of child users in the first instance. For example, if the changes were designed to prevent access to inappropriate content, this could be considered in the best interests of a child.

The default settings standard states: “Settings must be ‘high privacy’ by default (unless you can demonstrate a compelling reason for a different default setting, taking account of the best interests of the child).” This means that if an organisation wants to turn on a system by default for children, they need to have a compelling reason to do so, in the best interests of the child. It would not be in a child’s best interests if a system was designed to keep them engaged longer, or to profile them for advertising purposes.

A “compelling reason” means a reason for processing personal data in a specific way that goes above and beyond general business reasons. For example, if turning on the system by default would help protect children.

Where a system may be accessed by children of various ages, consideration should be given to their different development levels and needs when developing new products. For example, teenagers will require a different level of explanation and autonomy than younger children.

We would not consider the factors mentioned in the “context” section above to constitute a “compelling reason” for a system to be switched on by default, for any age group.

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Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)

Q: Can an artificial intelligence produced greeting in a call handler’s voice be used in a marketing call without falling in scope of Regulation 19 of PECR?

Context: The organisation is developing software that uses AI to synthesise a three to five second recording of a call handler’s voice. This would be played at the start of a call whilst it is established whether the call has been answered by a person or an answering machine has answered the call. Once a person has been identified on the line, the call handler would then take over the call. This would help comply with rules on silent calls.

Answer: Regulation 19 of PECR covers the use of automated calling systems. These are defined as systems that are capable of:

  • automatically initiating a sequence of calls to more than one destination in accordance with instructions stored in that system; and
  • transmitting sounds which are not live speech for reception by persons at some or all of the destinations so called.

The system the organisation described to us would fall under this definition.

This regulation states that organisations should not “transmit, nor instigate the transmission of, communications comprising recorded matter for direct marketing purposes by means of an automated calling system” unless they have consent from the recipient to do so.

This means that no part of a direct marketing call can include recorded material without consent from the individual receiving the call. As the marketing calls the organisation is proposing to make would contain some recorded matter, the use of this new software would not comply with Regulation 19 unless they have obtained specific consent.

We understand that the development of this system is to help ensure compliance with rules on silent calls. However, organisations must ensure that they are complying with all relevant regulations when making direct marketing calls.

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