Special Category Personal Data

Special Category Personal Data, also known as sensitive personal data, refers to specific types of personal information that are considered particularly sensitive and thus, require additional protection under data protection regulations. This category typically includes information that, if disclosed or mishandled, could result in significant harm or discrimination to the individual.

Organizations handling such data must implement stringent security measures and comply with legal requirements to guarantee privacy of the individuals. Understanding and appropriately managing special category personal data is crucial for organizations to mitigate risks and maintain compliance with data protection laws.

Characteristics of Special Category Personal Data

  1. Special categories of personal data: This simply refers to the types of data, including:
    • Racial or Ethnic Origin:
    • Political Opinions
    • Religious or Philosophical Beliefs
    • Trade Union Membership
    • Genetic Data
    • Biometric Data
    • Health Data
    • Sexual Orientation or Sex Life
  1. Protection Requirements: Special category personal data requires stricter protection measures due to its sensitive nature. Organizations handling such data must have a lawful basis for processing it and must adhere to specific conditions according to different regulations 
  1. Legal Basis for Processing: In most cases, processing special category personal data is prohibited unless one of the specific legal bases under the GDPR or other relevant laws applies. These laws often include explicit consent from the individual, processing necessary for employment or social security obligations, protection of vital interests, or processing carried out by a not-for-profit organization.
  1. Risk and Impact: The disclosure or misuse of special category personal data can have significant consequences for individuals, including potential discrimination or harm to their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Special Category of Personal Data in GDPR

In the context of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), special categories of personal data refer to sensitive information that requires extra protection due to its potential impact on an individual’s privacy and fundamental rights.

GDPR Requirements for Special Category Data:

  • Legal Basis for Processing: Organizations must have a lawful basis for processing special category data. This usually requires explicit consent from the individual or processing under specific conditions provided in Article 9, such as for medical purposes, employment, or legal claims.
  • Additional Safeguards: Processing of special category data is subject to stricter safeguards to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals. This includes implementing appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure data security and confidentiality.
  • Data Subject Rights: Individuals have enhanced rights over their special category data, including the right to access, rectify, erase, or restrict its processing. Organizations must be particularly diligent in handling requests related to sensitive data to ensure compliance with GDPR requirements.

Understanding and adhering to GDPR’s provisions regarding special category personal data is essential for organizations to avoid regulatory penalties, uphold individual rights, and maintain trust with data subjects.

Personal Data Vs Special Category Data

CategoryPersonal Data Special Category Data
DefinitionAny information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.Includes sensitive information revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, health data, and data concerning a person’s sex life or sexual orientation.
ExamplesName, address, email address, phone number, IP address.Racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, health data, sexual orientation, sex life.
Processing ConditionsMust be processed lawfully, fairly, and transparently. Special conditions apply for processing special category data, such as explicit consent or specific legal grounds.Processing is generally prohibited unless specific conditions (explicit consent, legal obligations, etc.) are met.
Data Subject RightsRights to access, rectify, erase, restrict processing, data portability, object to processing. Cannot be subject to automated decision-making.Enhanced rights apply, including stricter conditions for processing and additional safeguards.
Legal BasisCan be processed based on consent, contract, legal obligation, vital interests, public task, or legitimate interests.Requires explicit consent or must meet specific conditions outlined in Article 9 of GDPR.
Security RequirementsMust implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to protect against unauthorized access, disclosure, and loss.Requires additional safeguards due to the sensitive nature of the data.