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Information Compliance


This page provides an overview of the following data protection topics and links to sources of further information.



Data protection legislation sets out rules and standards for the use and handling ('processing') of information ('personal data') about living identifiable individuals ('data subjects') by organisations ('data controllers').  It is based around the notions of principles, rights and accountability obligations

The law applies to organisations in all sectors, both public and private.  It applies to all electronic records as well as many paper records. It doesn’t apply to anonymous information or to information about the deceased.

Since 25 May 2018, the legislation in the UK has been the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), coupled with the UK Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) that supplements the GDPR in specific ways.  These two pieces of legislation replaced the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA 1998) and the numerous Statutory Instruments issued pursuant to it.  There is also supplementary data protection legislation covering specific topics, such as direct marketing.  The legislation is regulated in the UK by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) as well as the courts.

Under the GDPR, the University (like all data controllers) is required to pay an annual fee to the ICO and to be included in its register of fee payers (the University's register entry number is Z6641083 and the current registration period expires on 14 April 2019).  It should be stressed that the University of Cambridge - although a large, complex and devolved organisation that includes two major trading departments (Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press) and various cultural offerings (libraries, museums, theatres, gardens and festivals) as well as 'standard' academic departments and administrative offices - is a single legal entity and so is a single data controller.  Each of the 31 Colleges of the University is a separate legal entity and data controller for the purposes of data protection legislation.



Data controllers processing personal data must follow - and be able to demonstrate that they are following - the data protection principles.

Under the GDPR, there are six principles.  Personal data must be processed following these principles so that the data are:

  1. Processed fairly, lawfully and transparently - and only if there is a valid 'legal basis' for doing so.

  2. Processed only for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes.

  3. Adequate, relevant and limited.

  4. Accurate (and rectified if inaccurate).

  5. Not kept for longer than necessary.

  6. Processed securely - to preserve the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the personal data.

Under the DPA 1998 there were eight principles but two of these (about the rights of data subjects and transfers of personal data outside the European Economic Area) are covered in different ways in the GDPR.  Depending on the context, there are full or partial exemptions from the principles when processing personal data for specific purposes, including different types of academic research.


Privacy notices

An important aspect of complying with data protection legislation is being open and transparent with individuals about how their personal data will be used.  The supply of this information - through documents variously known as 'privacy notices', 'data protection statements', 'data collection notices', 'privacy policies' and numerous other interchangeable terms - takes places in numerous targeted ways depending on the context of the interaction with the individual.  The University's core privacy notices - each titled 'How we use your personal information (for ...)' - are available from the menu on this page.



Under the GDPR, data subjects are given various rights, which are free to exercise:

  • The right to be informed of how their personal data are being used - this right is usually fulfilled by the provision of 'privacy notices' as described above.

  • The right of access to their personal data - accessing personal data in this way is usually known as making a 'subject access request'.

  • The right to have their inaccurate personal data rectified.

  • The right to have their personal data erased where appropriate - also known as the right to be forgotten.

  • The right to restrict the processing of their personal data pending its verification or correction.

  • The right to receive copies of their personal data in a machine-readable and commonly-used format - known as the right to data portability.

  • The right to object: to processing (including profiling) of their personal data that proceeds under particular legal bases; to direct marketing; and to processing of their data for research purposes where that research is not in the public interest.

  • The right not to be subject to a significant decision based solely on automated decision-making using their personal data.

A response to a rights request normally needs to be sent within one month.  However, nearly all of these rights are qualified in various ways and there are numerous specific exemptions both in the GDPR and in the DPA 2018 (for example, nearly all the rights may not apply if the personal data are being processed solely in an academic research context). These rights build upon and strengthen rights previously given to data subjects under the DPA 1998.


Accountability obligations

Data protection legislation imposes certain accountability obligations on all data controllers. Under the GDPR, the main obligations for large data controllers include:


Data breaches

One of the most important accountability obligations concerns personal data breaches - that is, personal data held by the University is lost, stolen, inadvertently disclosed to an external party, or accidentally published.  Some typical examples of a personal data breach are:

  • Sending an email or letter containing personal data to the wrong recipient.

  • Accidentally disclosing personal email addresses (e.g. by using cc instead of bcc).

  • Inadvertently publishing University records containing personal data, or login credentials allowing access to them, on the internet.

  • Losing an unsecured laptop or other personal device storing University records containing personal data.

  • Having a University website, email account or drive hacked, with personal data stolen or 'locked down' by the hacker.

Personal data breaches may arise from IT security incidents, but not all IT security incidents are personal data breaches, and vice versa.  Some types of personal data breach have to reported to the ICO and the affected data subjects within short timeframes, so recognising and reporting them internally is crucial.

If a personal data breach occurs, this should be reported urgently to appropriate staff within your University Institution (e.g. senior administrative or IT staff) or directly to:

Separately, or in addition, if an IT security incident occurs, this should be reported urgently to appropriate staff within your University Institution (e.g. senior IT staff) or directly to:



The University's Data Protection Policy was approved by the University Council at its meeting on 19 March 2018.  Section 3.6 outlines the responsibilities of individual members of University staff.

The Policy explains how it relates to associated information governance and information security policies and procedures.  Links to further policies are included on the main guidance page of this website.


Guidance and training

More detailed guidance for University staff on data protection is published:

Data protection training for University staff is available: