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Sensitive Personal Data

Glossary Contents

Sensitive Personal Data is a term that refers to a specific category of personal data that is considered to be more sensitive than other types of personal data. This type of data is subject to stricter regulations and protections, due to the potential harm that could be caused if it were to be misused or disclosed without the individual's consent.

Understanding what constitutes sensitive personal data and how it should be handled is crucial for any organization that collects, processes, or stores personal data. This is not only to ensure compliance with data privacy laws and regulations, but also to maintain the trust and confidence of individuals whose data is being handled.

Definition of Sensitive Personal Data

The definition of sensitive personal data can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific data protection law or regulation in question. However, it generally refers to data that reveals certain types of information about an individual that could be used in a discriminatory manner or could cause significant harm to the individual if it were misused.

Typically, sensitive personal data includes information about an individual's racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, health data, sex life or sexual orientation, and criminal convictions or offences. It's important to note that the specific categories of sensitive personal data can vary, and some jurisdictions may include additional categories.

Why Sensitive Personal Data is Considered More Sensitive

The reason why certain types of personal data are considered to be more sensitive than others is because they have the potential to be used in a discriminatory manner or to cause significant harm to the individual if they were to be misused. For example, information about an individual's racial or ethnic origin could be used to discriminate against them, while information about their health could be used to deny them insurance or employment.

Furthermore, sensitive personal data can reveal intimate details about an individual's life that they may not wish to be made public. For example, information about an individual's sex life or sexual orientation could be used to embarrass or blackmail them. Therefore, it's crucial that sensitive personal data is handled with the utmost care and respect for the individual's privacy.

Legal Protections for Sensitive Personal Data

Due to the potential harm that could be caused by the misuse of sensitive personal data, it is subject to stricter legal protections than other types of personal data. These protections can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific data protection law or regulation in question, but they generally include stricter requirements for obtaining consent, stricter limitations on processing, and stricter requirements for data security.

For example, under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, sensitive personal data can only be processed under certain conditions, such as if the individual has given explicit consent, if the processing is necessary for the purposes of carrying out the obligations and exercising specific rights of the data controller or of the data subject in the field of employment and social security and social protection law, or if the processing is necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject or of another natural person where the data subject is physically or legally incapable of giving consent.

Handling Sensitive Personal Data

Given the potential harm that could be caused by the misuse of sensitive personal data, it's crucial that organizations handle this type of data with the utmost care. This includes taking steps to ensure that the data is collected, processed, and stored in a manner that respects the individual's privacy and complies with data protection laws and regulations.

Organizations should also take steps to ensure that sensitive personal data is only accessed by individuals who need to access it for legitimate purposes, and that it is protected from unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction. This includes implementing appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure the security of the data, such as encryption, access controls, and regular security audits.

Collecting Sensitive Personal Data

When collecting sensitive personal data, organizations should ensure that they have a legitimate reason for doing so and that they obtain the individual's consent, unless there is another legal basis for processing the data. The individual should be informed about the purpose of the data collection, the types of data that will be collected, how the data will be used, who will have access to the data, and how long the data will be retained.

Organizations should also ensure that they only collect the minimum amount of sensitive personal data that is necessary for the purpose of the data collection. This is known as data minimization, and it's a key principle of data protection law. Collecting more data than is necessary can increase the risk of data breaches and can also lead to violations of data protection laws and regulations.

Processing Sensitive Personal Data

When processing sensitive personal data, organizations should ensure that they have a legitimate reason for doing so and that they obtain the individual's consent, unless there is another legal basis for processing the data. The processing should be carried out in a manner that respects the individual's privacy and complies with data protection laws and regulations.

Organizations should also ensure that they only process the sensitive personal data for the purpose for which it was collected, unless they have a legitimate reason for processing it for another purpose and they obtain the individual's consent. This is known as purpose limitation, and it's another key principle of data protection law. Processing data for purposes other than those for which it was collected can lead to violations of data protection laws and regulations.

Storing Sensitive Personal Data

When storing sensitive personal data, organizations should ensure that they have appropriate technical and organizational measures in place to protect the data from unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, or destruction. This includes implementing measures such as encryption, access controls, and regular security audits.

Organizations should also ensure that they only retain the sensitive personal data for as long as is necessary for the purpose for which it was collected, unless they have a legitimate reason for retaining it for longer and they obtain the individual's consent. This is known as storage limitation, and it's yet another key principle of data protection law. Retaining data for longer than is necessary can increase the risk of data breaches and can also lead to violations of data protection laws and regulations.

Individual Rights and Sensitive Personal Data

Individuals have certain rights in relation to their sensitive personal data under data protection laws and regulations. These rights can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific data protection law or regulation in question, but they generally include the right to be informed, the right of access, the right to rectification, the right to erasure, the right to restrict processing, the right to data portability, and the right to object.

Organizations that collect, process, or store sensitive personal data should ensure that they respect these rights and provide individuals with the means to exercise them. This includes providing individuals with clear and accessible information about their rights, responding to requests from individuals to exercise their rights in a timely manner, and taking steps to rectify any breaches of these rights.

The Right to Be Informed

The right to be informed is the right of individuals to be provided with clear and accessible information about how their sensitive personal data is being collected, processed, and stored. This includes information about the purpose of the data collection, the types of data that will be collected, how the data will be used, who will have access to the data, and how long the data will be retained.

Organizations should provide this information at the time of data collection, and they should ensure that it is presented in a clear and accessible manner. They should also update this information as necessary, and they should provide individuals with the means to access it at any time.

The Right of Access

The right of access is the right of individuals to obtain a copy of their sensitive personal data and to obtain information about how it is being processed. This includes information about the purpose of the processing, the categories of data that are being processed, the recipients or categories of recipients to whom the data has been or will be disclosed, the envisaged period for which the data will be stored, and the source of the data if it was not collected from the individual.

Organizations should provide individuals with the means to exercise this right, and they should respond to requests from individuals to exercise this right in a timely manner. They should also ensure that the data is provided in a commonly used electronic format, unless the individual requests otherwise.

The Right to Rectification

The right to rectification is the right of individuals to have inaccurate or incomplete sensitive personal data corrected or completed. If the data has been disclosed to others, the organization should inform them of the rectification where possible.

Organizations should provide individuals with the means to exercise this right, and they should respond to requests from individuals to exercise this right in a timely manner. They should also take steps to ensure that the data is accurate and up to date, and they should rectify any inaccuracies or incompleteness as soon as they become aware of them.

The Right to Erasure

The right to erasure, also known as the right to be forgotten, is the right of individuals to have their sensitive personal data erased in certain circumstances. This includes circumstances where the data is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected, where the individual withdraws their consent, where the individual objects to the processing and there are no overriding legitimate grounds for the processing, where the data has been unlawfully processed, or where the data has to be erased to comply with a legal obligation.

Organizations should provide individuals with the means to exercise this right, and they should respond to requests from individuals to exercise this right in a timely manner. They should also take steps to ensure that the data is erased in a secure manner, and they should inform any third parties to whom the data has been disclosed about the erasure where possible.

Conclusion

In conclusion, sensitive personal data is a specific category of personal data that is considered to be more sensitive than other types of personal data, due to the potential harm that could be caused if it were to be misused or disclosed without the individual's consent. Understanding what constitutes sensitive personal data and how it should be handled is crucial for any organization that collects, processes, or stores personal data, not only to ensure compliance with data privacy laws and regulations, but also to maintain the trust and confidence of individuals whose data is being handled.

Organizations should take steps to ensure that sensitive personal data is collected, processed, and stored in a manner that respects the individual's privacy and complies with data protection laws and regulations. They should also respect the rights of individuals in relation to their sensitive personal data, and provide them with the means to exercise these rights. By doing so, organizations can ensure that they are handling sensitive personal data in a responsible and respectful manner, and that they are doing their part to protect the privacy of individuals.

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