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Article 4 GDPR

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Article 4: Definitions
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Chapter 10: Delegated and implementing acts

Legal Text[edit | edit source]


Article 4 - Definitions


For the purposes of this Regulation:

1. ‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person;

2. ‘processing’ means any operation or set of operations which is performed on personal data or on sets of personal data, whether or not by automated means, such as collection, recording, organisation, structuring, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making available, alignment or combination, restriction, erasure or destruction;

3. ‘restriction of processing’ means the marking of stored personal data with the aim of limiting their processing in the future;

4. ‘profiling’ means any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person's performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements;

5. ‘pseudonymisation’ means the processing of personal data in such a manner that the personal data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of additional information, provided that such additional information is kept separately and is subject to technical and organisational measures to ensure that the personal data are not attributed to an identified or identifiable natural person;

6. ‘filing system’ means any structured set of personal data which are accessible according to specific criteria, whether centralised, decentralised or dispersed on a functional or geographical basis;

7. ‘controller’ means the natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body which, alone or jointly with others, determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data; where the purposes and means of such processing are determined by Union or Member State law, the controller or the specific criteria for its nomination may be provided for by Union or Member State law;

8. ‘processor’ means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body which processes personal data on behalf of the controller;

9. ‘recipient’ means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or another body, to which the personal data are disclosed, whether a third party or not. However, public authorities which may receive personal data in the framework of a particular inquiry in accordance with Union or Member State law shall not be regarded as recipients; the processing of those data by those public authorities shall be in compliance with the applicable data protection rules according to the purposes of the processing;

10. ‘third party’ means a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or body other than the data subject, controller, processor and persons who, under the direct authority of the controller or processor, are authorised to process personal data;

11. ‘consent’ of the data subject means any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject's wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her;

12. ‘personal data breach’ means a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed;

13. ‘genetic data’ means personal data relating to the inherited or acquired genetic characteristics of a natural person which give unique information about the physiology or the health of that natural person and which result, in particular, from an analysis of a biological sample from the natural person in question;

14. ‘biometric data’ means personal 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, such as facial images or dactyloscopic data;

15. ‘data concerning health’ means personal data related to the physical or mental health of a natural person, including the provision of health care services, which reveal information about his or her health status;

16. ‘main establishment’ means:

(a) as regards a controller with establishments in more than one Member State, the place of its central administration in the Union, unless the decisions on the purposes and means of the processing of personal data are taken in another establishment of the controller in the Union and the latter establishment has the power to have such decisions implemented, in which case the establishment having taken such decisions is to be considered to be the main establishment;
(b) as regards a processor with establishments in more than one Member State, the place of its central administration in the Union, or, if the processor has no central administration in the Union, the establishment of the processor in the Union where the main processing activities in the context of the activities of an establishment of the processor take place to the extent that the processor is subject to specific obligations under this Regulation;

17. ‘representative’ means a natural or legal person established in the Union who, designated by the controller or processor in writing pursuant to Article 27, represents the controller or processor with regard to their respective obligations under this Regulation;

18. ‘enterprise’ means a natural or legal person engaged in an economic activity, irrespective of its legal form, including partnerships or associations regularly engaged in an economic activity;

19. ‘group of undertakings’ means a controlling undertaking and its controlled undertakings;

20. ‘binding corporate rules’ means personal data protection policies which are adhered to by a controller or processor established on the territory of a Member State for transfers or a set of transfers of personal data to a controller or processor in one or more third countries within a group of undertakings, or group of enterprises engaged in a joint economic activity;

21. ‘supervisory authority’ means an independent public authority which is established by a Member State pursuant to Article 51;

22. ‘supervisory authority concerned’ means a supervisory authority which is concerned by the processing of personal data because:

(a) the controller or processor is established on the territory of the Member State of that supervisory authority;
(b) data subjects residing in the Member State of that supervisory authority are substantially affected or likely to be substantially affected by the processing; or
(c) a complaint has been lodged with that supervisory authority;

23. ‘cross-border processing’ means either:

(a) processing of personal data which takes place in the context of the activities of establishments in more than one Member State of a controller or processor in the Union where the controller or processor is established in more than one Member State; or
(b) processing of personal data which takes place in the context of the activities of a single establishment of a controller or processor in the Union but which substantially affects or is likely to substantially affect data subjects in more than one Member State.

24. ‘relevant and reasoned objection’ means an objection to a draft decision as to whether there is an infringement of this Regulation, or whether envisaged action in relation to the controller or processor complies with this Regulation, which clearly demonstrates the significance of the risks posed by the draft decision as regards the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects and, where applicable, the free flow of personal data within the Union;

25. ‘information society service’ means a service as defined in point (b) of Article 1(1) of Directive (EU) 2015/1535 of the European Parliament and of the Council;

26. ‘international organisation’ means an organisation and its subordinate bodies governed by public international law, or any other body which is set up by, or on the basis of, an agreement between two or more countries.

Relevant Recitals[edit | edit source]

Personal Data[edit | edit source]

Recital 14: Not Applicable to Legal Persons
The protection afforded by this Regulation should apply to natural persons, whatever their nationality or place of residence, in relation to the processing of their personal data. This Regulation does not cover the processing of personal data which concerns legal persons and in particular undertakings established as legal persons, including the name and the form of the legal person and the contact details of the legal person.

Recital 15: Technologically Neutral Protection
In order to prevent creating a serious risk of circumvention, the protection of natural persons should be technologically neutral and should not depend on the techniques used. The protection of natural persons should apply to the processing of personal data by automated means, as well as to manual processing, if the personal data are contained or are intended to be contained in a filing system. Files or sets of files, as well as their cover pages, which are not structured according to specific criteria should not fall within the scope of this Regulation.

Recital 26: Applicable to Pseudonymous Data, Not Applicable to Anonymous Data
The principles of data protection should apply to any information concerning an identified or identifiable natural person. Personal data which have undergone pseudonymisation, which could be attributed to a natural person by the use of additional information should be considered to be information on an identifiable natural person. To determine whether a natural person is identifiable, account should be taken of all the means reasonably likely to be used, such as singling out, either by the controller or by another person to identify the natural person directly or indirectly. To ascertain whether means are reasonably likely to be used to identify the natural person, account should be taken of all objective factors, such as the costs of and the amount of time required for identification, taking into consideration the available technology at the time of the processing and technological developments. The principles of data protection should therefore not apply to anonymous information, namely information which does not relate to an identified or identifiable natural person or to personal data rendered anonymous in such a manner that the data subject is not or no longer identifiable. This Regulation does not therefore concern the processing of such anonymous information, including for statistical or research purposes.

Recital 27: Not Applicable to Deceased Persons
This Regulation does not apply to the personal data of deceased persons. Member States may provide for rules regarding the processing of personal data of deceased persons.

Recital 29: Conditions for Pseudonymisation
In order to create incentives to apply pseudonymisation when processing personal data, measures of pseudonymisation should, whilst allowing general analysis, be possible within the same controller when that controller has taken technical and organisational measures necessary to ensure, for the processing concerned, that this Regulation is implemented, and that additional information for attributing the personal data to a specific data subject is kept separately. The controller processing the personal data should indicate the authorised persons within the same controller.

Recital 30: Online Identifiers
Natural persons may be associated with online identifiers provided by their devices, applications, tools and protocols, such as internet protocol addresses, cookie identifiers or other identifiers such as radio frequency identification tags. This may leave traces which, in particular when combined with unique identifiers and other information received by the servers, may be used to create profiles of the natural persons and identify them.

Commentary[edit | edit source]

Article 4 GDPR provides a list of definitions used to further specify relevant notions used throughout the GDPR.

In the case of new definitions, on the other hand, there is scope for new interpretations.

Some definitions are taken from the preceding Directive 95/46/EC, allowing an understanding to build on the already existing terms. Others definitions, however, are newly introduced, modified or complemented with additional elements and therefore require a new interpretation.

In order to avoid linguistic inconsistencies leading to an inconsistent application of the law, it should be noted that the Regulation is legally binding in all official languages of the EU. Therefore, whenever in doubt of the interpretation, other language versions may be consulted to identify and resolve discrepancies.

(1) Personal Data[edit | edit source]

The principal concept of the GDPR is that of ‘personal data’.[1]

Its definition is an extension of the previously existing definition under Article 2 (a) Directive 95/46/EC.[2] The Directive itself derives the definition from Article 2 (a) Convention 108,[3] according to which “personal data” means any information relating to an identified or identifiable individual.

The definition can be divided into the four requirements of (1) ‘any information’ (2) ‘relating to’ (3) ‘an identified or identifiable’ (4) 'individual' requiring their cumulative fulfilment in order to satisfy the notion of personal data.

Any Information[edit | edit source]

With the expression of ‘any information’, the legislator underlines the willingness to keep the term ‘personal data’ as broad as possible.

In this regard, the German Constitutional Court already in 1983 stated that "Under the conditions of automatic data processing, there is no longer meaningless data."[4] This position was recently also supported by the Commission, stating that "any item of data relating to an individual, harmless though it may seem, may be sensitive",[5] thereby also following the wish of the Council to keep the definition as general as possible.[6] In this regard, also the European Court of Human Rights stated that:

“private life” must not be interpreted restrictively. In particular, respect for private life comprises the right to establish and develop relationships with other human beings [...] there is no reason of principle to justify excluding activities of a professional or business nature from the notion of “private life”[7]

Accordingly, personal data includes information both regarding the individual’s private and family life and information regarding the working, economic or social behaviour of the individual regardless of its position or capacity.[8] The Information can either be ‘objective’ such as unchangeable characteristics of a data subject as well as ‘subjective’ in the form of opinions or assessments.[9] It is thereby not necessary for the information to be true, proven or complete.[10]

With regards to the format or medium of the information, data of any type, may it be alphabetical, numerical, (photo)graphical, acoustic, is concerned. This includes information on paper as well as information stored on a computer in binary form or on tape, such as videosurveillance,[11], telebanking,[12] medical prescriptions[13] or even child's drawings.[14]

Relating to[edit | edit source]

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Identified or Identifiable[edit | edit source]

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Individual[edit | edit source]

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Decided Examples[edit | edit source]

  • name, date of birth, nationality, gender, ethnicity, religion and language[15]
  • place of birth, nationality, marital status, sex, record of entries into and exits from a a country, residence status, particulars of passports issued, previous statements as to domicile, reference numbers issued by an authority, reference numbers used by authorities[16]
  • municipality of residence, information concerning the earned and unearned income and assets of that person[17]
  • data, which relate both to the monies paid by certain bodies and the recipients[18]
  • name of a person in conjunction with his telephone coordinates or information about his working conditions or hobbies[19]
  • the times when working hours begin and end, as well as the corresponding breaks and intervals[20]

(2) Processing[edit | edit source]

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(3) Restriction of processing[edit | edit source]

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(4) Profiling[edit | edit source]

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(5) Pseudonymisation[edit | edit source]

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(6) Filing system[edit | edit source]

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(7) Controller[edit | edit source]

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(8) Processor[edit | edit source]

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(9) Recipient[edit | edit source]

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(10) Third party[edit | edit source]

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(11) Consent[edit | edit source]

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(12) Personal data breach[edit | edit source]

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(13) Genetic data[edit | edit source]

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(14) Biometric data[edit | edit source]

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(15) Data concerning health[edit | edit source]

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(16) Main establishment[edit | edit source]

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(17) Representative[edit | edit source]

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(18) Enterprise[edit | edit source]

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(19) Group of undertakings[edit | edit source]

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(20) Binding corporate rules[edit | edit source]

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(21) Supervisory authority[edit | edit source]

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(22) Supervisory authority concerned[edit | edit source]

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(23) Cross-border processing[edit | edit source]

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(24) Relevant and reasoned objection[edit | edit source]

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(25) Information society service[edit | edit source]

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(26) International organisation[edit | edit source]

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Other Definitions[edit | edit source]

Article 4 GDPR is not the only provision defining relevant terms for the GDPR. The Regulation contains other articles, that directly or indirectly delivering definitions, such as:

For further information please see the commentary on the respective Articles.

Decisions[edit | edit source]

→ You can find all related decisions in Category:Article 4 GDPR

References[edit | edit source]

  1. European Commission, What is personal data? (accessed on 08.09.2021); its antonym is defined in Article 3(1) of Regulation (EU) 2018/1807.
  2. Council of the European Union, 2012/0011 (COD), 27 January 2012, p. 9 (available here).
  3. COM (90) 314 final - SYN 287 and SYN 188, 30 September 1990, p. 19.
  4. German Federal Constitutional Court, 15 December 1983, 1 BvR 209/83, 269/83, 362/83, 420/83, 440/83, 484/83, margin number 150 (available here).
  5. Commission of the European Communities, COM(90) 314, final, 13 September 1990, p. 19 (available here).
  6. Commission of the European Communities, COM (92) 422 final, 15 October 1992, p. 10 (available here); also cited in WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 4 (available here).
  7. European Court of Human Rights. Amann v. Switzerland [GC], no. 27798/95
  8. For example as a consumer, patient, employee or customer; see also WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 6 f. (available here).
  9. WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 6; especially the latter type of information constitutes a significant part of the processing in sectors such as banking, insurances or employment.
  10. WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 6; in fact, the GDPR provides tools to rectify incorrect information, see Article 16 GDPR.
  11. Images of individuals captured by a video surveillance system can be personal data to the extent that the individuals are recognizable; see WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 8 (available here).
  12. In telephone banking, where the customer's voice giving instructions to the bank are recorded on tape, those recorded instructions should be considered as personal data; see WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 8 (available here).
  13. Drug prescription information (name, strength, manufacturer, price, reasons, form, patterns, etc.) as well as information on the prescriber; see WP29, Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 7 (available here).
  14. A drawing of a child representing her family provides information about the girl's mood and what she feels about different members of her family. The drawing will indeed reveal information relating to the child and also about e.g. her father's or mother’s behaviour, making it personal data; see Opinion 4/2007 on the concept of personal data, 20 June 2007, p. 8 (available here).
  15. Judgment of the Court, Joined Cases C‑141/12 and C‑372/12, 17. July 2014, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2081 CELEX:62012CJ0141, CELEX:62006CA0524
  16. Judgment of the Court, Case C-524/06, 16. December 2008, ECLI:EU:C:2008:724, CELEX:62006CJ0524
  17. Judgment of the Court, Case C-73/07, 16 December 2008, ECLI:EU:C:2008:727, CELEX:62007CJ0073
  18. Judgment of the Court, Joined Cases C-465/00, C-138/01 and C-139/01, 20. May 2003, ECLI:EU:C:2003:294 CELEX:62000CJ0465
  19. Judgment of the Court, Case C-101/01, 6. November 2003, ECLI:EU:C:2003:596, CELEX:62001CJ0101
  20. Judgment of the Court, Case C-342/12, 30 May 2013, ECLI:EU:C:2013:355, CELEX:62012CJ0342
  21. Judgment of the Court, Case C-582/14, 19 October 2014, ECLI:EU:C:2016:779, CELEX:62014CJ0582
  22. Judgment of the Court, Case C‑434/16, 20 December 2017, ECLI:EU:C:2017:994, CELEX:62016CJ0434
  23. Judgment of the Court, Case C‑291/12, 17. Oktober 2013, ECLI:EU:C:2013:670, CELEX:62012CJ0291