How to rely on legitimate interest

GDPR legitimate interests: What it is and when it applies

September 11th, 2019 Posted in Data Protection

The GDPR stipulates that data controllers and processors must process personal data lawfully. There are six lawful bases for processing data; Consent, contract, legal obligation, vital interest, public task and legitimate interest.  Details of each are explained here but for the purpose of this blog I’m going to focus specifically on Legitimate Interest.   

Legitimate Interest is the least clear cut of all the lawful bases and to the inexperienced eye, it can easily be misinterpreted as a ‘catch all’ for any other data processing needs when in reality, it’s the most complex basis to apply because it requires you to assess and justify your reasoning.  

Legitimate Interest Assessment

Let’s look at the basis;  

(f) Legitimate interests:  the processing is necessary for your legitimate interests or the legitimate interests of a third party unless there is a good reason to protect the individual’s personal data which overrides those legitimate interests. (This cannot apply if you are a public authority processing data to perform your official tasks.) 

If your legitimate interest is in the context of fraud prevention, network and information security or related to identifying possible criminal acts or threats to public securityyour interest is on good grounds, because these interests are specifically noted as legitimate under GDPR.  

If however you are justifying a commercial interest for your organisation or a third party (which is completely acceptable) or even if you believe the processing is in the interest of wider society, you will have more work to do tpresent your case for legitimacy.  

Assuming you’re not a public authority (with some exceptions) and you have ruled out the other five lawful bases for processingyour next step is to carry out a Legitimate Interest Assessment (LIA). There are three parts to this, so it is often referred to as the Three-Part Test.  

1). Purpose Test: Assess if there is a legitimate interest behind the processing.

2). Necessity Test: Assess if the processing is necessary for the purpose you have identified.

3). Balancing Test: Consider the impact on individuals’ interests and rights and freedoms and assess whether this overrides your legitimate interests. 

The Purpose Test

Think about why you want to process the data and what benefit you expect to get from it. Whether third parties or the broader public will benefit in any way. How important the perceived benefits are. Whether there would be a negative impact if you didn’t carry out the processing. Are you complying with any specific data protection rules that apply to your processing such as profiling requirements, or e-privacy legislation? Are you complying with other relevant laws, industry guidelines or codes of practice and does the processing raise any ethical issues? 

The Necessity Test

Think about whether the processing will help you achieve your purposewhether it’s proportionate, and whether you need the level of data you’re proposing to achieve the purpose. Perhaps there is another way to achieve the same purpose which doesn’t require processing 

The Balancing Test

The balancing test is the heart of your LIA. For this exercise, you need to consider the impact on individual’s interests and rights and freedoms of processing the data and assess whether this overrides your legitimate interests. You are balancing your interests with the data subject’s interests rights and freedoms. 

The balancing test requires you to consider: 

  • The nature of the personal data: is it special category or criminal offence data, will data subjects consider it to be private and does it belong to children or vulnerable people? In these cases, you should probably also have a DPIA to refer to.  
  • Reasonable expectations: would the data subject reasonably expect you to process the data for the stated purpose? What would be the likely impact to the data subject of processing the data 

Things to consider which will have a bearing on reasonable expectations include; whether you have an existing relationship with the data subjectthe nature of that relationship and how you have previously used the data. Whether you collected the data directly from the data subject or from a third partyin which case, are covered by the third-party arrangementWhether the data is old or there have been changes in technology and context which would likely change the data subjectexpectations since you collected it.  

Also, whether your intended purpose and method are widely understood. You may be intending to do something new or innovative which the data subject wasn’t aware of at the time of accepting your privacy policy. Are there any other factors in the circumstances that mean they would or would not expect the processing to occur? 

  • Likely impact: here you get to the crux of the balancing test because the level of likely impact will either tip the scale towards you or the data subject. Factors to consider are what are the possible impacts of the data processing on the subject, what is the severity of those impacts and what is the likelihood of them occurring? Whether the subject will lose control over the use of any of their personal data. What systems could you put in place to safeguard the data? And if you explained the purpose to the data subject do you think they would decline? 

I often think that asking yourself whether you would consider it a Legitimate Interest if it was your data, is a good gaugeSome final useful pointers on this subject include: 

  • You must identify the lawful basis for your processing activity before you actually begin processingIf Legitimate Interest is the right lawful basis, you must include it in your privacy policy and state what your interest is 
  • No one lawful basis is better than the other, what is important is that you select the correct one and are confident of your decision because you shouldn’t change the lawful basis at a later stage 
  • Importantly, document your legitimate interests and your LIA to help show accountability. 

Need Help?

Despite all the guidance available it is sometimes not easy to decipher the nuances of legitimate interest.  If you need help or an objective opinion to develop your LIADPIA or need assistance crafting your privacy policy, we can help.


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Written by Evalian®