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What is a Data Processor under GDPR?

A data processor under the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is any natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body which processes data on behalf of the controller. The definition comes out of GDPR Article 4(8), but there is much else to learn about the role and responsibilities of the data processor throughout the GDPR.

The data processor works under the instructions of the data controller. Article 29 specifically prohibits a processor from processing data unless instructed to do so by a data controller. According to Article 4(7), a controller is a natural person or organization that, either alone or jointly with others, determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data. The controller typically contracts with one or more third-party data processors to perform specific processing on the personal data within its possession or control.

A data processor can also be a controller of personal data. However, a third-party data processor is not the controller with respect to the specific personal data that they are processing based on the controller’s instructions. In other words, a company that acts as a third-party data processor for an organization can also be a controller of personal data that it collects itself separate and apart from what it receives from the organization using its data processing services. If two companies are instead jointly making decisions with respect to the processing of personal data, then they may be considered joint controllers under Article 26 instead of one being the controller and the other being the processor.

In order for a data controller to have a processor engage in lawful personal data processing, the processing must be governed by a contract or other legal act. The agreement must meet certain enumerated requirements, including setting forth the subject matter and duration of the processing, its nature and purpose, the type of personal data and categories of data subjects, and the obligations and rights of the controller.

Data processors are also required by the GDPR to engage in certain other activities in order to protect personal data. These other tasks include implementing appropriate technical and organizational measures to ensure an appropriate level of security (under Article 32). It is also obligated to assist the controller in the execution of data protection impact assessments and the fulfillment of data subject access requests.


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