This morning my other half mentioned a concern that was popping up about ICO registration fees for sole traders working with personal data under GDPR. Since there seems to be a lot of confusion (including from the ICO phone staff themselves who have been reported as giving varying answers to the same people) I thought I’d try and help. All the usual provisos apply, and I am working only from the information published by the ICO – simply summarising it and cutting out some of the parts I don’t think are relevant.
First of all, the way that the ICO is funded and the requirements for notification/registration have changed. I won’t go into the old rules, but the new ones are quite simple – there is now a legal requirement for data controllers to pay a data protection fee to the ICO. These fees are not unreasonable, running between £40 to £2900 per year depending on size and turnover. You can also get a £5 discount for paying by direct debit. Data processors do not need to pay this fee. There are certain other exemptions, but frankly they really only complicate the issue for most sole traders. I will talk about them shortly, but the core issue is that difference between controllers and processors – which is fundamentally quite simple but poorly explained.
The definition is this – a data controller determines the purposes for which data is processed. For most sole traders and small businesses who work with personal data, this will not be the case – in the vast majority of cases you will be fulfilling a commission or contract for a client, which means that you are not determining the purpose of processing any data they have passed you. You will still have the same duty to protect that data under the GDPR of course, but are not the data controller and so do not have to pay the data protection fee to the ICO. If, however, you are gathering the data, determining the purposes of processing and analysis, or anything similar then you will either need to pay the fee or rely on one of the other exemptions.
A data processor meanwhile may process the data, but does not decide the purposes of processing. As an example – a translator asked to translate a CV by an individual or a company is the data processor, while the client would be the data controller. A data processor does not have to pay the ICO data protection fee.
What if I am a data controller?
If you are a data controller there are certain exemptions which might apply, for example if your only purpose in processing data is staff administration you are exempt from the fee. In general though you will need to pay it – the exemptions are clear and narrow in terms of the data you can process and the purposes of processing it. Unless everything you process (where you are defining the purposes of processing it, not a client) falls under the exemptions then you will need to pay the fee.
The exemptions are listed, clearly, in the ICO’s own literature:
- Staff administration
- Advertising, marketing and public relations
- Accounts and records
- Not-for-profit purposes
- Personal, family or household affairs
- Maintaining a public register
- Judicial functions
- Processing personal information without an automated system such as a computer
Take special note of that last one – the definition the ICO is using here of an automated system is different to the GDPR’s definition of automated processing. In essence, if you are using any system with any level of automation for any point in the processing of data, then you do not fall under this exemption. Hopefully the others and the reasons for them are clear.
As always, feel free to send me any questions either here or on Twitter, and hopefully the picture is a little clearer for some of you now.
Under GDPR a lawful basis is the justification to process personal data. While I’ve focused mainly on consent, as the easiest to understand, the others are worth looking at – and contract may be a better fit for much of the work that sole traders carry out. First, a quick examination of what the lawful bases mean and how you can apply them.
Essentially a lawful basis defines the purpose for which you’re holding the data, and provide different sets of rights for data subjects to allow for the different usage. Consent, for example, allows subjects to request erasure, to object to the storage of their data or processing for a specific purpose, and allows them to demand that any data held on them be exported and provided in a portable format. Obviously these rights are not suitable to all purposes.
The contract lawful basis allows for data subjects to object, which means that they can ask for you to stop processing their data for particular purposes. They cannot ask that you erase the data, nor that it be exported in a portable format (or rather they can ask for these things but you have a legal right to refuse). If they do ask that you stop processing their data for a specific purpose then you must comply – unless you have compelling legitimate reasons to process the data, or are doing so to establish, exercise or defend a legal claim (i.e. if a client has refused to pay, you would not have to stop processing their data in order to pursue payment).
In order to establish contract as a lawful basis you need to assess the data you are holding (most likely not much more than contact details), ensure you are only using it for that purpose (in order to negotiate or perform a contract), ensure you do not hold it longer than necessary (once the contract is complete if there are no legal reasons to hold onto it for a period of time, such as auditing or chasing payment, then you should delete it), and record that you are holding it under that basis. In most cases all you’d need would be a footer on e-mails explaining that you will hold and use contact information in order to negotiate and complete a contract, and will retain it for compliance with any applicable laws after the contract is complete.
If you want to use those contact details for any marketing either during or after the contract, then that would be a separate purpose (arguably you might be able to go for legitimate interest, but to be honest consent is far more suitable for this purpose) and you would need to inform the client and get their explicit consent for this. They would also need to be provided with a simple method to object (i.e. sign up to my mailing list for further details, followed by on each mailing an e-mail address to contact or link to click if they want to be removed).
As always, any questions please ask here, or via Twitter (I don’t mind dealing with private queries, but it’s easier to go through those two than answer the same questions several times). Also please remember if you have particular legal concerns then you should speak to an expert with insurance rather than leaning on this article for any legal opinion – I’m purely looking to clarify the available guidance and target it more appropriately at those who seem to have slipped under the ICO’s radar in terms of advice.
I’ve had variations of this question on contacts a few times since the first post, and I can understand the confusion around it. I’ve been asked by a few people whether lists you have of friends, family, or similar fall under GDPR (technically, yes, which is where the magic word ‘reasonable’ keeps coming in to play), and a lot of questions seem to be around the use of personal details for everyday business purposes.
Now, there’s various advice about legitimate interests as a basis for processing, notifications to send out to your address book and so on. When you are not collecting and processing personal data beyond contact details for clients, what needs to be done to be compliant?
The bad news, from one point of view, is that this is still personal data, it still falls under the act and therefore you need to think about what you are doing with it.
The good news is that it is extremely unlikely you need to do anything particularly special about it. The reason for this is that GDPR recognises two categories of data – personal data, and sensitive personal data. Sensitive personal data is personal data that relates to a protected characteristic. Normal personal data is personally identifying data which does not relate to a protected characteristic – an e-mail address or phone number would be personal data, but would not fall under sensitive personal data.
The obvious question then is why it matters – and the answer is simple. Sensitive personal data requires explicit consent for any form of collection or processing – in other words to collect it or do anything with it, the data subject must be asked the question ‘do you agree to us collecting and holding this data for these purposes’, and a very definite yes is required from them for usage to be allowed.
Non-sensitive personal data (for want of a better term) requires only unambiguous consent. This means that they must have taken an affirmative action indicating their consent, but some aspects can be implied rather than having to be spelled out. So in the case of contact details, let’s say someone gives you a business card and says to get in touch. In that moment they have provided you with their personal data, and given you unambiguous consent to use it for the purposes of contacting them. The same would apply if they sent you an e-mail asking to start a business relationship, or picked up the phone.
However here’s where the whole purpose thing comes in again – while it is reasonable to say that someone who has given you their contact details and asked you to get in touch has given unambiguous consent for contact (or if you’re a larger company, and if you are we can talk consultancy fees or you can talk to your own GDPR experts, for one of your sales/relationship team to get in contact), they have not given consent to be signed up to your automated mailing list. If you think they might be interested in it, and want them to sign up, then get in touch and ask for their consent to use their data that way – then make sure you keep a record of that consent (saving an e-mail would count).
When someone makes personal data public it’s a slightly different matter. By having some of my contact details publicly available I am providing unambiguous consent to being contacted using them – although signing them up to an automated mailing list would be a different matter.
Please note that in this particular article, I am looking only at personal data used in an everyday business way, and what is reasonable to do with it. In terms of contacts and communications a sole trader is likely already compliant, unless they are carrying out some sort of automated marketing rather than handling things directly.
To sum this all up in some simple answers (and I still believe the GDPR can be summed up in a few sentences for the vast majority of cases, but that’ll come later):
- someone giving you their contact details is providing all the consent you need to contact them, but nothing else such as subscribing them to an automated list
- if you want to do anything other than contact them, then to be compliant you need to very clearly inform them of what you want to do and confirm that they consent to it
- you need to be very clear with people you contact on how they can ask for their data to be removed, and do so promptly if they ask
- take reasonable security precautions with these contact details (I would hope that most sole traders would consider them valuable enough to protect from disclosure in any case)
I’ve put together a quick and dirty tutorial on how to use one of the better encryption tools out there. I’ll go more into depth once I’m back at a real computer and have a little more time, maybe with a full video exploration and explanation of the different options. I’ll also be looking to do an evaluation of cloud storage options and how they play in to the situation. As always, if there are particular questions or particular urgent areas then drop me a line either here or on twitter (@coffee_fueled).
There is a lot of advice floating around about the GDPR – for everyone from large enterprises to small business. What I haven’t seen much of (though I have seen some) is an attempt to relate it to self-employed or freelance individuals, sole traders, and small partnerships. Recently my wife came across some questions about it on one of her social media translator groups where there were concerns about how it will impact these groups.
The advice for SMEs and larger is generally very official, designed for consumption by the legal and technical teams of a company. That’s great for a company which has those, but doesn’t apply so much to a sole trader who doesn’t specialise in law and IT. So I offered to summarise as best I could, and translate things a little. Before I do that I need to make a couple of things clear:
- This post is aimed to make the GDPR understandable for sole traders and other small businesses, I do not aim to present or suggest solutions here, simply try and help to ensure that the responsibilities and duties are understood appropriately.
- This is not official advice from a lawyer or similar and you should not lean on it if you have a particularly complex situation, instead consult a professional who is willing to put official advice in writing and has liability insurance.
- This first post is a brief summary – I will be skimming over the legislation, as I don’t know which are the most pertinent questions to go into depth. If you have any questions please get in touch, or post a comment, and I’ll happy elaborate on any areas of confusion or concern.
Principles of the GDPR
The GDPR is based around a number of principles, largely building and elaborating on existing principles in data protection legislation.
- Lawfulness, fairness and transparency: treat personal data according to the law, fairly, and be open and transparent about your usage of it with the subjects of the data
- Purpose limitation: only collect and use data for clearly defined purposes, do not use it for anything outside of those purposes (transparency applies here, as the data subjects must be informed of the purposes)
- Data minimisation: you should only keep the most limited data you can which is adequate and relevant to your purposes in processing
- Accuracy: personal data you hold must be accurate, and where necessary kept up to date
- Storage limitation: this is more an extension from data minimisation – you must not hold data in a form that allows identification of subjects longer than necessary for your stated purposes, note that this permits anonymisation of data for further storage and processing
- Integrity and confidentiality: make sure that the data is secure, using (and this is the key word) appropriate technical or organisational measures
- Accountability: the data controller (different from the data processor, we’ll get to that) is responsible for and must be able to demonstrate compliance with the GDPR legislation
GDPR Data Subjects, Processors and Controllers
The other three key terms that come up in the GDPR are about who it applies to. Here we have data subjects, processors, and controllers. Subjects is fairly clear, it refers to the subjects of the data being gathered and their rights to control that data. Specifically their right to be informed of any data held on request, and their right to have it shown to them or removed on request. Processors and controllers are where some confusion comes in, but are quite simple. The controller is the one who decides what the data is to be used for, while the processor is the one who carries out those uses. For sole traders and other small businesses these are almost certain to be the same people – although there will be cases where they are not (where your business is about providing analytical resource and expertise to third parties, for example).
Contractual Basis for Processing
I’m going to end with this section, for now, as it is the area which seems to raise the most concern. As mentioned if anyone has questions around other areas, please get in touch or comment and I’ll happily expand this series to address them, but this I really wanted to cover.
One of the most common questions I have heard is whether the GDPR will interfere with normal business, in particular starting a new business relationship with someone. Do you need to e-mail them to get informed consent, keep them notified that you’ll be storing their contact details in your address book/CRM, and so on? Marketing is a bigger, separate subject, so if it’s asked about I’ll go into it in a separate post.
Essentially if you are holding and processing someone’s personal data for the purposes of fulfilling an agreed contract and/or agreeing a contract then you have a lawful basis for processing. Contract here refers to any agreement that meets the terms of contract law (not necessarily written down, but means that terms have been offered and accepted, you both intend for the terms to be binding, and there is an element of exchange).
The good news is that this will apply if you are establishing a relationship and contract with a new client. It will also apply if, as part of the contract, they are asking you to process their personal data (i.e. getting a personal document translated to another language). What is important is that when you obtain the data you ensure the client/customer/third party is informed on how you will be using it, why you will be using it, what you will be using it for and how long you intend to keep hold of it.
Basically a lot of the GDPR boils down to being transparent with people about what you are doing with their data, taking responsibility and accountability for data you hold, and acting in a reasonable manner. If you are clear and open with customers about what you will do with their data (and remember, GDPR is opt-in, not opt-out, so the consent must be informed and documented), and keep track of data assets you hold then you should be fine. There’s a lot of use in the legislation about ‘reasonable’ measures, views, expectations and so on. Essentially – if someone contacts you in order to set up a contract and do business with you, particularly if the only personal data you obtain are contact details, you will need to take reasonable security measures to secure those contact details, and not misuse them to send out marketing e-mails without the explicit consent of the data subject.
Treat other’s data as you’d expect a responsible business to treat yours, and you should be fine. If you have questions either around other aspects, or around more practical security matters for a sole trader or small business (encryption, systems to use, what counts as ‘secure’) then please do leave a comment or get in touch directly.
I’ve been advised to add a small note around some specific scenarios:
- if you are working with a document with a signature, even if there is no other personal data, then once you are finished with the document you should destroy it and/or ensure that the signature is unreadable (there may be reasons to keep the document, in which case it should be fully anonymised if you have no need of the data)
- if you keep contact details (you do) then you should ensure that people are informed you are keeping them, and make sure they have a way to ask for the data you hold on them, ask for changes, ask for it to be erased, ask you to restrict the purposes you use it for (with contact details this essentially maps to asking for it to be erased I imagine), ask for an electronic copy, and object to you holding it – this is a large area, and I suspect will involve a separate post to cover fully
- having a password on your computer is not a way to protect your data from theft unless you have also set up encryption, or are storing all data on the cloud rather than the local machine, or other circumstances which may apply – if I get some questions on this then I’ll go into more detail, but it’s fair to say that whole-disk encryption along with a password is a reasonable option, while an unencrypted disk is not