At a glance

  • The GDPR requires you to put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures to implement the data protection principles and safeguard individual rights. This is ‘data protection by design and by default’.
  • In essence, this means you have to integrate or ‘bake in’ data protection into your processing activities and business practices, from the design stage right through the lifecycle.
  • This concept is not new. Previously known as ‘privacy by design’, it has have always been part of data protection law. The key change with the GDPR is that it is now a legal requirement.
  • Data protection by design is about considering data protection and privacy issues upfront in everything you do. It can help you ensure that you comply with the GDPR’s fundamental principles and requirements, and forms part of the focus on accountability.

Checklists

We consider data protection issues as part of the design and implementation of systems, services, products and business practices.

We make data protection an essential component of the core functionality of our processing systems and services.

We anticipate risks and privacy-invasive events before they occur, and take steps to prevent harm to individuals.

We only process the personal data that we need for our purposes(s), and that we only use the data for those purposes.

We ensure that personal data is automatically protected in any IT system, service, product, and/or business practice, so that individuals should not have to take any specific action to protect their privacy.

We provide the identity and contact information of those responsible for data protection both within our organisation and to individuals.

We adopt a ‘plain language’ policy for any public documents so that individuals easily understand what we are doing with their personal data.

We provide individuals with tools so they can determine how we are using their personal data, and whether our policies are being properly enforced.

We offer strong privacy defaults, user-friendly options and controls, and respect user preferences.

We only use data processors that provide sufficient guarantees of their technical and organisational measures for data protection by design.

When we use other systems, services or products in our processing activities, we make sure that we only use those whose designers and manufacturers take data protection issues into account.

We use privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) to assist us in complying with our data protection by design obligations.

In brief

What’s new in the GDPR?

The GDPR introduces new obligations that require you to integrate data protection concerns into every aspect of your processing activities. This approach is ‘data protection by design and by default’. These are key elements of the GDPR’s risk-based approach and its focus on accountability, ie you are able to demonstrate how you are complying with its requirements.

However, data protection by design and by default is not new. It is essentially the GDPR’s version of ‘privacy by design’, an approach that the ICO has championed for many years. Although privacy by design and data protection by design are not precisely the same, there are well-established privacy by design principles and practices that can apply in this context.

Some organisations already adopt a ‘privacy by design approach’ as a matter of good practice. If this is the case for you, then you are well-placed to meet the requirements of data protection by design and by default. Although you may still need to review your processes and procedures to ensure that you are meeting your obligations.

The biggest change is that whilst privacy by design was good practice under the Data Protection Act 1998 (the 1998 Act), data protection by design and by default are legal requirements under the GDPR.

What does the GDPR say about data protection by design and by default?

Articles 25(1) and 25(2) of the GDPR outline your obligations concerning data protection by design and by default.

Article 25(1) specifies the requirements for data protection by design:

‘Taking into account the state of the art, the cost of implementation and the nature, scope, context and purposes of processing as well as the risks of varying likelihood and severity for rights and freedoms of natural persons posed by the processing, the controller shall, both at the time of the  determination of the means for processing and at the time of the processing itself, implement appropriate technical and organisational measures, such as pseudonymisation, which are designed to implement data-protection principles, such as data minimisation, in an effective manner and to integrate the necessary safeguards into the processing in order to meet the requirements of this Regulation and protect the rights of data subjects.’

Article 25(2) specifies the requirements for data protection by default:

‘The controller shall implement appropriate technical and organisational measures for ensuring that, by default, only personal data which are necessary for each specific purpose of the processing are processed. That obligation applies to the amount of personal data collected, the extent of their processing, the period of their storage and their accessibility. In particular, such measures shall ensure that by default personal data are not made accessible without the individual's intervention to an indefinite number of natural persons.’

Article 25(3) states that if you adhere to an approved certification under Article 42, you can use this as one way of demonstrating your compliance with these requirements.

What is data protection by design?

Data protection by design is ultimately an approach that ensures you consider privacy and data protection issues at the design phase of any system, service, product or process and then throughout the lifecycle.

As expressed by the GDPR, it requires you to:

  • put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures designed to implement the data protection principles; and
  • integrate safeguards into your processing so that you meet the GDPR's requirements and protect the individual rights.

In essence this means you have to integrate or ‘bake in’ data protection into your processing activities and business practices.

Data protection by design has broad application. Examples include:

  • developing new IT systems, services, products and processes that involve processing personal data;
  • developing organisational policies, processes, business practices and/or strategies that have privacy implications;
  • physical design;
  • embarking on data sharing initiatives; or
  • using personal data for new purposes.

The underlying concepts of data protection by design are not new. Under the name ‘privacy by design’ they have existed for many years. Data protection by design essentially inserts the privacy by design approach into data protection law.

Under the 1998 Act, the ICO supported this approach as it helped you to comply with your data protection obligations. It is now a legal requirement.

What is data protection by default?

Data protection by default requires you to ensure that you only process the data that is necessary to achieve your specific purpose. It links to the fundamental data protection principles of data minimisation and purpose limitation.

You have to process some personal data to achieve your purpose(s). Data protection by default means you need to specify this data before the processing starts, appropriately inform individuals and only process the data you need for your purpose. It does not require you to adopt a ‘default to off’ solution.  What you need to do depends on the circumstances of your processing and the risks posed to individuals.

Nevertheless, you must consider things like:

  • adopting a ‘privacy-first’ approach with any default settings of systems and applications;
  • ensuring you do not provide an illusory choice to individuals relating to the data you will process;
  • not processing additional data unless the individual decides you can;
  • ensuring that personal data is not automatically made publicly available to others unless the individual decides to make it so; and
  • providing individuals with sufficient controls and options to exercise their rights.

Who is responsible for complying with data protection by design and by default?

Article 25 specifies that, as the controller, you have responsibility for complying with data protection by design and by default. Depending on your circumstances, you may have different requirements for different areas within your organisation. For example:

  • your senior management, eg developing a culture of ‘privacy awareness’ and ensuring you develop policies and procedures with data protection in mind;
  • your software engineers, system architects and application developers, –eg those who design systems, products and services should take account of data protection requirements and assist you in complying with your obligations; and
  • your business practices, eg you should ensure that you embed data protection by design in all your internal processes and procedures.

This may not apply to all organisations, of course. However, data protection by design is about adopting an organisation-wide approach to data protection, and ‘baking in’ privacy considerations into any processing activity you undertake. It doesn’t apply only if you are the type of organisation that has your own software developers and systems architects.

In considering whether to impose a penalty, the ICO will take into account the technical and organisational measures you have put in place in respect of data protection by design. Additionally, under the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) we can issue an Enforcement Notice against you for any failings in respect of Article 25.

What about data processors?

If you use another organisation to process personal data on your behalf, then that organisation is a data processor under the GDPR.  

Article 25 does not mention data processors specifically. However, Article 28 specifies the considerations you must take whenever you are selecting a processor. For example, you must only use processors that provide:

‘sufficient guarantees to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures in such a manner that the processing will meet the requirements of this Regulation and ensure the protection of the rights of the data subject’

This requirement covers both data protection by design in Article 25 as well as your security obligations under Article 32. Your processor cannot necessarily assist you with your data protection by design obligations (unlike with security measures), however you must only use processors that provide sufficient guarantees to meet the GDPR’s requirements.

What about other parties?

Data protection by design and by default can also impact organisations other than controllers and processors. Depending on your processing activity, other parties may be involved, even if this is just where you purchase a product or service that you then use in your processing. Examples include manufacturers, product developers, application developers and service providers.

Recital 78 extends the concepts of data protection by design to other organisations, although it does not place a requirement on them to comply – that remains with you as the controller. It says:

‘When developing, designing, selecting and using applications, services and products that are based on the processing of personal data or process personal data to fulfil their task, producers of the products, services and applications should be encouraged to take into account the right to data protection when developing and designing such products, services and applications and, with regard to the state of the art, to make sure that controllers and processors are able to fulfil their data protection obligations.’

Therefore, when considering what products and services you need for your processing, you should look to choose those where the designers and developers have taken data protection into account. This can help to ensure that your processing adheres to the data protection by design requirements.

If you are a developer or designer of products, services and applications, the GDPR places no specific obligations on you about how you design and build these products. (You may have specific obligations as a controller in your own right, eg for any employee data.) However, you should note that controllers are required to consider data protection by design when selecting services and products for use in their data processing activities – therefore if you design these products with data protection in mind, you may be in a better position.

What are we required to do?

You must put in place appropriate technical and organisational measures designed to implement the data protection principles and safeguard individual rights.  

There is no ‘one size fits all’ method to do this, and no one set of measures that you should put in place. It depends on your circumstances.

The key is that you consider data protection issues from the start of any processing activity, and adopt appropriate policies and measures that meet the requirements of data protection by design and by default.

Some examples of how you can do this include:

  • minimising the processing of personal data;
  • pseudonymising personal data as soon as possible;
  • ensuring transparency in respect of the functions and processing of personal data;
  • enabling individuals to monitor the processing; and
  • creating (and improving) security features.

This is not an exhaustive list. Complying with data protection by design and by default may require you to do much more than the above.

However, we cannot provide a complete guide to all aspects of data protection by design and by default in all circumstances. This guidance identifies the main points for you to consider. Depending on the processing you are doing, you may need to obtain specialist advice that goes beyond the scope of this guidance.

When should we do this?

You should begin data protection by design at the initial phase of any system, service, product, or process. You should start by considering your intended processing activities, the risks that these may pose to individuals, and the possible measures available to ensure that you comply with the data protection principles and protect individual rights. These considerations must cover:

  • the state of the art and costs of implementation of any measures;
  • the nature, scope, context and purposes of your processing; and
  • the risks that your processing poses to the rights and freedoms of individuals.

This is similar to the information risk assessment you should do when considering your security measures.

These considerations lead into the second step, where you put in place actual technical and organisational measures to implement the data protection principles and integrate safeguards into your processing.  

This is why there is no single solution or process that applies to every organisation or every processing activity, although there are a number of commonalities that may apply to your specific circumstances as described below.

The GDPR requires you to take these actions:

  • ‘at the time of the determination of the means of the processing’ – in other words, when you are at the design phase of any processing activity; and
  • ‘at the time of the processing itself’ – ie during the lifecycle of your processing activity.

What are the underlying concepts of data protection by design and by default?

The underlying concepts are essentially expressed in the seven ‘foundational principles’ of privacy by design, as developed by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

Although privacy by design is not necessarily equivalent to data protection by design, these foundational principles can nevertheless underpin any approach you take.

‘Proactive not reactive; preventative not remedial’

You should take a proactive approach to data protection and anticipate privacy issues and risks before they happen, instead of waiting until after the fact. This doesn’t just apply in the context of systems design – it involves developing a culture of ‘privacy awareness’ across your organisation.

‘Privacy as the default setting’           

You should design any system, service, product, and/or business practice to protect personal data automatically. With privacy built into the system, the individual does not have to take any steps to protect their data – their privacy remains intact without them having to do anything.

‘Privacy embedded into design’

Embed data protection into the design of any systems, services, products and business practices. You should ensure data protection forms part of the core functions of any system or service – essentially, it becomes integral to these systems and services.

‘Full functionality – positive sum, not zero sum’

Also referred to as ‘win-win’, this principle is essentially about avoiding trade-offs, such the belief that in any system or service it is only possible to have privacy or security, not privacy and security. Instead, you should look to incorporate all legitimate objectives whilst ensuring you comply with your obligations.

‘End-to-end security – full lifecycle protection’

Put in place strong security measures from the beginning, and extend this security throughout the ‘data lifecycle’ – ie process the data securely and then destroy it securely when you no longer need it. 

‘Visibility and transparency – keep it open’

Ensure that whatever business practice or technology you use operates according to its premises and objectives, and is independently verifiable. It is also about ensuring visibility and transparency to individuals, such as making sure they know what data you process and for what purpose(s) you process it.   

‘Respect for user privacy – keep it user-centric’

Keep the interest of individuals paramount in the design and implementation of any system or service, eg by offering strong privacy defaults, providing individuals with controls, and ensuring appropriate notice is given.

How do we do this in practice?

One means of putting these concepts into practice is to develop a set of practical, actionable guidelines that you can use in your organisation, framed by your assessment of the risks posed and the measures available to you. You could base these upon the seven foundational principles.

However, how you go about doing this depends on your circumstances – who you are, what you are doing, the resources you have available, and the nature of the data you process. You may not need to have a set of documents and organisational controls in place, although in some situations you will be required to have certain documents available concerning your processing.

The key is to take an organisational approach that achieves certain outcomes, such as ensuring that:

  • you consider data protection issues as part of the design and implementation of systems, services, products and business practices;
  • you make data protection an essential component of the core functionality of your processing systems and services;
  • you only process the personal data that you need in relation to your purposes(s), and that you only use the data for those purposes;
  • personal data is automatically protected in any IT system, service, product, and/or business practice, so that individuals should not have to take any specific action to protect their privacy;
  • the identity and contact information of those responsible for data protection are available both within your organisation and to individuals;
  • you adopt a ‘plain language’ policy for any public documents so that individuals easily understand what you are doing with their personal data;
  • you provide individuals with tools so they can determine how you are using their personal data, and whether you are properly enforcing your policies; and
  • you offer offering strong privacy defaults, user-friendly options and controls, and respect user preferences.

Many of these relate to other obligations in the GDPR, such as transparency requirements, documentation, Data Protection Officers and DPIAs. This shows the broad nature of data protection by design and how it applies to all aspects of your processing. Our guidance on these topics will help you when you consider the measures you need to put in place for data protection by design and by default.

 

In more detail – Article 29

The Article 29 Working Party includes representatives from the data protection authorities of each EU member state. It adopts guidelines for complying with the requirements of the GDPR.

Article 29 has produced guidelines on transparency, data protection officers, and data protection impact assessments.

 

Further reading

We will produce further guidance on how you can implement data protection by design soon. However, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has published guidance on how organisations can ‘operationalise’ privacy by design, which may assist you.

How do data protection by design and by default link to data protection impact assessments (DPIAs)?

A DPIA is a tool that you can use to identify and reduce the data protection risks of your processing activities. They can also help you to design more efficient and effective processes for handling personal data.

DPIAs are an integral part of data protection by design and by default. For example, they can determine the type of technical and organisational measures you need in order to ensure your processing complies with the data protection principles.

However, a DPIA is only required in certain circumstances, such as where the processing is likely to result in a risk to rights and freedoms, though it is good practice to undertake a DPIA anyway. In contrast, data protection by design is a broader concept, as it applies organisationally and requires you to take certain considerations even before you decide whether your processing is likely to result in a high risk or not.

In more detail – ICO guidance

Read our guidance on DPIAs in the Guide to the GDPR.

We have also produced more detailed guidance on DPIAs, including a template that you can use and a list of processing operations that we consider require DPIAs to be undertaken.

 

In more detail – Article 29           

Article 29 has produced guidelines on data protection impact assessments.

What is the role of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs)?

Privacy-enhancing technologies or PETs are technologies that embody fundamental data protection principles by minimising personal data use, maximising data security, and empowering individuals. A useful definition from the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) refers to PETs as:

‘software and hardware solutions, ie systems encompassing technical processes, methods or knowledge to achieve specific privacy or data protection functionality or to protect against risks of privacy of an individual or a group of natural persons.’

PETs link closely to the concept of privacy by design, and therefore apply to the technical measures you can put in place. They can assist you in complying with the data protection principles and are a means of implementing data protection by design within your organisation on a technical level.

Further reading

We will provide further guidance on PETs in the near future. ENISA has also published research reports on PETs that may assist you.

What about international transfers?

Data protection by design also applies in the context of international transfers in cases where you intend to transfer personal data overseas to a third country that does not have an adequacy decision.

You need to ensure that, whatever mechanism you use, appropriate safeguards are in place for these transfers. As detailed in Recital 108, these safeguards need to include compliance with data protection by design and by default.

In more detail – ICO guidance

Read our guidance on international transfers.

What is the role of certification?

Article 25(3) says that:

‘An approved certification mechanism pursuant to Article 42 may be used as an element to demonstrate compliance with the requirements set out in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article.’

This means that an approved certification mechanism, once one is available, can assist you in showing how you are complying with, and implementing, data protection by design and by default.

In more detail – Article 29

Article 29 will be publishing guidelines on certification criteria soon.

What additional guidance is available?                

The ICO will publish more detailed guidance about data protection by design and privacy enhancing technologies soon, as well as how these concepts apply in the context of the code of practice on age appropriate design in the DPA 2018 section 123.

In the meantime, there are a number of publications about the privacy by design approach. We have summarised some of these below.

Further reading

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) originated the concept of privacy by design in the 1990s. The IPC has a number of relevant publications about the concept and how you can implement it in your organisation, including:

The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) has also published research and guidance on privacy by design, including:

The Norwegian data protection authority (Datatilsynet) has produced guidance on how software developers can implement data protection by design and by default.