Special types of personal data

There are a few special types of personal data that are worth taking note of: special categories of personal data, and otherwise sensitive personal data. These types of personal data have additional requirements. If you want to process them, please contact your privacy officer first.

Special categories of personal data

The GDPR explicitly defines seven ‘special categories of personal data’. It is information that reveals:

  • racial or ethnic origin
  • political opinions
  • religious or philosophical beliefs
  • trade union membership
  • genetic or biometric data when meant to uniquely identify someone
  • physical or mental health conditions
  • sex life or sexual orientation

It is in principle prohibited to process these types of personal data, unless an exception applies (art. 9). For example, it is allowed to process these if:

  • Data subjects have provided explicit consent to process these data for a specific purpose.
  • Data subjects have made the data publicly available themselves
  • Processing is necessary for scientific research purposes (incl. historical and statistical purposes) and it is impossible or would take an unreasonable amount of effort to obtain explicit consent (UAVG art. 24).

Even if you can make use of one of these exemptions, special categories of personal data warrant additional security measures to make sure they are protected. Always contact your privacy officer if you intend on processing these types of data.

The Dutch Code of Conduct for Health Research (p.68) specifies a number of exceptions for health researchers in which explicit consent for processing special categories of personal data may not be necessary.

Data that are otherwise sensitive

Other types of data can also be sensitive, because they can carry higher risks for the data subjects. These types of data can either not be processed at all, or only under certain circumstances. Either way, they require additional security measures. Always contact your privacy officer if you intend on using these types of data.

Examples are:

  • Financial data
  • Data about relationship problems
  • Data that can be misused for identity fraud, such as the Dutch Citizen Service Number (BSN). In principle, the BSN cannot be used in research at all.
  • Criminal or justice-related data: they can only be processed under governmental supervision or when a derogation exists in national legislation (art. 10).