For how long should I store personal data?

On this page: retention, storage period, duration, remove, delete
Date of last review: 2022-06-02

As per the GDPR, anyone processing personal data can only store those for as long as is necessary for prespecified purposes (art 5(e)). Afterwards, the personal data have to either be fully anonymised or deleted. However, there is an exemption for research data, as described below.

In research, we often see a division in different types of retention periods:

  • If the personal data underpin a scientific publication, it is usually necessary to archive some personal data for integrity and validation purposes (art 5(e)), because they are part of the research data. At UU, any research data necessary for validation should be archived for at least 10 years (UU research data policy). If this includes personal data, they too should be archived. Importantly, this still means that you need to protect the personal data, and limit the personal data stored to the amount necessary for validation (art. 89)! This also implies that you should keep the documentation about the legal basis used (e.g., consent forms) during that time, so that you can demonstrate GDPR compliance.
  • Specific retention periods may apply additionally to specific types of data. For example, in the Netherlands there are specific retention periods for medical data that range between 10 and 30 years at minimum.
  • Personal data that were used for purposes other than answering your research question (e.g. contact information) should have their own retention policy: they should be removed or anonymised after the retention period (e.g. the research project) has ended.

If identification of the data subject is no longer needed for your (research) purposes, you do not need to keep storing the personal data just to comply with the GDPR, even if it means your data subjects cannot exercise their rights (art. 11).

For all types of data in your project (incl. to be archived research data), we recommend to formulate which data you will retain and for how long (for example in your Data Management Plan), and communicate the (possibly different) retention period(s) to data subjects. If you want to change the storage term you initially set and communicated for your personal data, please contact your privacy officer.

Deleting personal data

If you do not need personal data anymore, you must delete it, except when the data should be archived for validation purposes. When deleting data, it is important to make sure that there are no visible or hidden copies being left behind and that files cannot be recovered. The Storage Finder indicates how you can fully delete data on storage media within UU that are suitable for personal data. For your own file system, you can use software like BleachBit, BCWipe, DeleteOnClick, and Eraser to delete data.