What is considered a data breach under GDPR?

The GDPR is a set of rules designed to protect the privacy and security of the personal data of people within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). A data breach refers to the unauthorized access, disclosure, or loss of personal data. In the event of a data breach, organizations are obligated to comply with specific procedures outlined by GDPR.

Key terminology

  • Personal Data: Any information relating to an identifiable person, such as name, address, email, or information that can directly or indirectly identify an individual.
  • Data Controller: An entity that determines the purposes and means of processing personal data. It is typically the organization that collects and manages personal data.
  • Data Processor: A separate entity that processes personal data on behalf of the data controller, following the controller’s instructions.
  • Data Subject: An individual who can be identified, directly or indirectly, through personal data.
  • Data Breach: A security incident that leads to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorized disclosure of, or access to personal data.
  • Supervisory Authority: An independent public authority responsible for monitoring the application of the GDPR in a particular country.
  • Notification: The process of informing the supervisory authority and affected individuals about a data breach, as required by the GDPR.

Understanding GDPR data breaches

Under the GDPR, organizations are legally obliged to implement appropriate security measures to protect personal data from unauthorized access, accidental loss, or disclosure. However, in the event of a data breach, organizations must take immediate action to mitigate the risks and comply with specific notification requirements. Here’s an overview of the key steps involved:

  • Identification and assessment

Organizations must promptly identify and assess the nature and scope of the data breach. This includes determining the types of personal data affected, the potential consequences, and the individuals involved.

  • Containment and recovery

Organizations should take immediate steps to contain the breach and prevent further unauthorized access. They must also initiate the recovery process to restore the integrity and security of the affected systems or data.

  • Notification to supervisory authority

If the data breach poses a risk to individuals’ rights and freedoms, the organization must notify the relevant supervisory authority without undue delay. The notification should include details such as the nature of the breach, the estimated number of affected individuals, and the likely consequences.

  • Communication with data subjects

If the breach is likely to result in a high risk to individuals’ rights and freedoms, organizations must also inform the affected data subjects directly. The communication should provide clear and understandable information about the breach, the potential risks, and any recommended actions to mitigate harm.

  • Documentation and evaluation

Organizations should maintain a record of all data breaches, including their effects and the actions taken to address them. Regular evaluation of incidents allows organizations to identify patterns, enhance security measures, and prevent future breaches.


GDPR data breaches can have severe implications for both organizations and individuals. By understanding the key concepts and obligations related to data breaches, businesses can better safeguard personal data, mitigate risks, and ensure compliance with the GDPR. Prompt identification, containment, notification, and evaluation are crucial steps to effectively manage data breaches and protect the privacy rights of data subjects.

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