April 30, 2020

What is Special Category Data?

When handling data flows, not all data types are equal.

Special Category Data is the term used to cover those types of data which are more sensitive to the specific individual to whom they refer.

It covers:

  • Racial/ethical origin
  • Political opinion
  • Religious or Philosophical beliefs
  • Trade Union Membership
  • Genetic data
  • Biometric data used for identification purposes
  • Health
  • Sex life
  • Sexual orientation

The point here is that these data sets relate directly to individual freedoms – to think, believe, express oneself, to meet with people, to be free from discrimination etc.

While other data sets may be important to the individual (address, or financial details or gym membership for example), these are not directly linked to their individual profile in the same way.

The fact that a Special Category Data set exists, does not preclude it being collated. Sometimes such data is of less significance than others (the definition is quite broad).

So, a politician will not be concerned that details of their political affiliations are held – since this is key to why they do what they do. Similarly, information that someone has had their appendix removed might be regarded as of less significance than that they had a Hell’s Angels tattoo removed from their backside. Thus, there is flexibility in the use of such Special Category Data – but it remains the responsibility of the organisation to determine how data collection is taken forwards.

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