GDPR - An Overview for Software Developers


This article is part of my collection of articles on health informatics (see my HL7 series and DICOM series) and related standards and frameworks These articles are aimed primarily at software developers entering the field but may also be useful for intermediate or senior level technologists who are looking to brush up on the fundamentals quickly. In this exploration, we will delve into the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a cornerstone regulation that has reshaped the way data is handled across sectors and borders. Before proceeding to read this article, please read disclaimer provided at the end of this article. Also, when you are done reading this article, don't forget to try out the GDPR interactive quiz which focuses on the material covered in this article.

Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible. ~ Richard Feynman

How GDPR Started

In 2018, a new rule called GDPR was officially established in the European Union (EU) to better protect people’s private information. It updated old laws and created a single set of rules for all EU countries, making things more unified and up-to-date. GDPR has become a model for strong data protection worldwide.

Key Principles of GDPR

Understanding the key principles of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is crucial for organizations and businesses that handle personal data of EU citizens, ensuring their operations align with the strict standards of data protection and privacy. The GDPR emphasizes principles such as lawfulness, fairness, transparency, accuracy, data minimization, and accountability, which serve as the backbone of data processing activities, enforcing a higher level of safeguarding personal information from misuse, unauthorized access, and breaches. A profound understanding of these principles ensures that businesses not only maintain the trust and confidence of data subjects but also avoid substantial fines and penalties that can be levied due to non-compliance, thus ensuring ethical and lawful conduct in the intricate landscape of digital information and communication. Let us review these key principles next.

Asking for Permission Clearly GDPR insists that companies must ask for clear permission from people to use their personal information. They must explain how they will use, handle, and store this information openly, so people can make informed choices about sharing their data.

Collecting Only Necessary Data GDPR requires companies to collect only the information they absolutely need. They should use the data only for the reasons they have stated. This makes sure that unnecessary or excess data is not collected or used without reason.

Control Over One’s Data GDPR allows people to have more control over their own information. People have the right to see, get back, and move their data easily and in a commonly understood format. This means individuals can manage their information more freely.

Keeping Data Safe Protection is key in GDPR. Strong safety measures, like encoding data and regular security checks, are necessary. These measures aim to keep the data safe and secure, preventing misuse or leaks.

Quick Response to Data Leaks If data is exposed or leaked, GDPR requires a quick response. Companies must be ready to identify, communicate, and handle such incidents promptly. This includes informing the necessary authorities and the people affected by the leak as quickly as possible.

Building in Data Protection GDPR encourages companies to build their systems with data protection in mind from the start. This means that privacy protections are automatically included in the design of new services or processes, making sure that data is safeguarded naturally and effectively.

Understanding GDPR is like mastering a symphony: Each component plays a critical role in orchestrating a comprehensive data protection environment.

Keys Terms of GDPR

These terms and definitions are in my opinion key to navigating as well as understanding GDPR documentation much more easily and also understand its application in various situational contexts.

Consent Clear permission given by a person, agreeing to let their personal information be used in specific ways.

Data Breach An incident where personal information is accessed, shared, or lost without proper permission.

Data Controller A company or person who decides why and how personal information should be used.

Data Minimization Only collecting, using, and storing the personal information that is necessary for a specific purpose.

Data Portability The ability of people to take their personal information from one company to use or share it with another company easily.

Data Processor A company or person who handles personal information based on the instructions of the data controller.

Data Protection Officer (DPO) A person in a company who makes sure that personal information is handled correctly and safely according to laws.

Data Subject Someone whose personal information is used or handled by a company or individual.

Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) Checking and evaluating a project to make sure personal information is used and protected properly.

Personal Data Information that can be used to identify a person, like name, address, or email.

Processing Doing any operation on personal information, like collecting, storing, or deleting it.

Pseudonymization Changing personal information so that it doesn’t directly identify someone without additional data.

Right to Erasure (Right to be Forgotten) The option to ask a company to remove and delete your personal information.

Special Category Data Any data that is very sensitive and could be potentially used for purposes of discrimination such as race, religious beliefs, health information and sexual preferences/orientation. Explicit consent must be received in these situations from the data subject.

Subject Access Request (SAR) A request to see the personal information that a company has about someone.

Supervisory Authority An organization that makes sure companies follow the rules about handling personal information.

The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war. ~ Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Key Roles and Actors

Ensuring GDPR compliance within an organization requires a concerted effort from various roles, each with their specialized functions and responsibilities. Here are some key roles crucial for ensuring GDPR regulations within an organization:

Audit Team Checking the company’s actions and systems to make sure they follow data protection rules, and recommending ways to improve.

Chief Information Officer (CIO) Making sure technology systems are strong, secure, and meet data protection rules.

Customer Support and Service Teams Protecting the personal information of customers during service interactions and helping them understand their data protection rights.

Data Processors and Controllers Handling personal information properly and having clear agreements about responsibilities and expectations for data protection.

Data Protection Officer (DPO) Leading the strategy for following data protection laws, giving advice on protecting data, and being the main contact for data protection authorities.

Human Resources (HR) Taking care of employee information according to data protection rules and making sure employees learn about data protection practices.

IT Security Team Setting up and managing security measures to keep personal information safe and regularly checking these measures.

Legal and Compliance Teams Applying and explaining data protection laws and working with different teams to ensure the whole organization follows these laws.

Marketing Team Making sure marketing activities, like emails and customer management, respect data protection laws and manage customer choices properly.

Product and Development Teams Making sure new products or services are designed with data protection as a priority and follow data protection laws.

Risk Management Team Identifying and lessening risks related to data protection, and working with different teams for a united approach to managing these risks.

Training and Awareness Team Creating and sharing educational programs about data protection, ensuring that everyone knows and understands their responsibilities.

Each role shown above plays a crucial part in the multifaceted approach required for effective GDPR compliance. Collaboration, continuous learning, and adaptation across these roles are essential to navigate the evolving landscape of data protection successfully.

Penalties for Non-Adherence

Non-compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can result in severe penalties, reflecting the gravity of the infringement. The fines are structured in a two-tier system. For less severe violations, organizations can be fined up to €10 million or 2% of their annual global turnover, whichever is higher. For more serious infringements, the fines can escalate up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s total global annual turnover, whichever is greater. To put this into perspective, a company with a global annual turnover of $1 billion could face a penalty of up to $40 million for grave violations. These substantial fines underscore the imperative of GDPR compliance, encouraging organizations to prioritize data protection and privacy in their operations.


Through this exploration, we have unravelled the essential elements of GDPR, emphasizing its pivotal role in steering data protection practices and strategies. Adhering to GDPR’s principles is not merely about avoiding penalties; it is about embodying a culture of respect for personal data and privacy. Our journey in mastering regulatory frameworks continues, stay tuned for more insightful explorations into regulations like HIPAA, SOC 2, and others. If you are interested in strengthening your knowledge on the material covered in this article, you may consider trying out my GDPR interactive quiz and also my interactive quiz on regulatory standards that I put together recently which covers a number of concepts of GDPR as well as on other regulatory standards such as HIPAA and the SOC framework which I cover in separate articles in this series. Until next time!

Disclaimer: This article is shared for informational objectives, aiming to shed light on aspects of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It should not be interpreted as delivering legal, professional, or any form of explicit advice concerning any specific matter. The content is curated to offer a broader perspective on GDPR based on accessible information until the date of its composition and may not encompass the latest evolutions or amendments in the regulatory landscape.

Readers are encouraged to consult a proficient professional to acquire advice tailored to their unique compliance requisites or legal obligations pertinent to their specific scenarios or sectors. The author renounces any responsibility or liability that might emerge from any inaccuracies or omissions in the information showcased herein, or from any employment or interpretation of the contents by any individual or entity.