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Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), individuals have the right to access their personal data held by organisations. These requests, known as Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs), are critical to GDPR compliance. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how organisations can effectively handle DSARs and ensure compliance with the GDPR’s requirements.

  1. Understanding Data Subject Access Requests

A DSAR is a request made by an individual (data subject) to access their personal data held by an organization. It is essential to recognize and acknowledge DSARs promptly to meet the GDPR’s strict timelines for response. Upon receiving a DSAR, it is important to verify the requester’s identity and ensure that the scope of the request is clear to avoid any unnecessary delays.

  1. Retrieving and Preparing the Requested Data

Once the DSAR is received and validated, the next step is to locate and retrieve the requested personal data. Organizations must gather data from all relevant sources, including databases, filing systems, electronic records, and backups. It is crucial to ensure that all requested information is gathered and that no relevant data is overlooked.

  1. Reviewing the Data for Exemptions and Third-Party Information

While individuals have a right to access their personal data, there are exceptions and limitations under the GDPR. Organizations should review the retrieved data to ensure it does not include any exempted information, such as confidential business data, legal advice, or personal data related to other individuals. Redacting third-party information is necessary to protect the rights and privacy of other individuals.

  1. Providing Clear and Comprehensive Responses

Organizations are responsible for providing responses to DSARs in a clear and easily understandable manner. The response should include all relevant information requested by the data subject, ensuring transparency and accountability. It is important to provide explanations for any technical terms or abbreviations used to aid the data subject’s understanding of the response.

  1. Timely Response and Communication

The GDPR requires organizations to respond to DSARs without undue delay and within one month from the receipt of the request. In certain circumstances, this period can be extended by two additional months, but the data subject must be informed of the extension and the reasons for it within the initial one-month timeframe. Communication with the data subject throughout the process is vital to manage expectations and provide updates on the progress of their request.

  1. Compliance with Data Subject Rights

DSARs may involve more than just providing access to personal data. Data subjects also have the right to rectify inaccurate data, erase their data under specific conditions, and restrict or object to the processing of their data. Organizations must carefully consider these rights and respond accordingly, ensuring that any necessary changes or actions are implemented within the required timeframes.

  1. Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs)

In some cases, responding to DSARs may require conducting a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA). DPIAs help organizations assess the potential risks and impact on individuals’ privacy rights when processing personal data. If a DSAR raises concerns regarding the data subject’s rights or the processing activities, a DPIA may be necessary to evaluate the implications and take appropriate measures to mitigate risks.

  1. Documentation and Record-Keeping

To demonstrate compliance with the GDPR, organizations should maintain detailed records of all DSARs received, the steps taken to respond, and the communication exchanged with data subjects. This documentation helps demonstrate accountability and can be valuable in case of audits or inquiries by supervisory authorities.


Complying with Data Subject Access Requests is crucial for organizations to uphold the principles of transparency and individuals’ rights under the GDPR. By understanding the steps involved in handling DSARs effectively, organizations can ensure timely and comprehensive responses, safeguarding data subjects’ privacy rights and building trust in their data protection practices. Adhering to GDPR requirements not only fosters compliance but also contributes to maintaining strong relationships with customers and users in an increasingly data-driven world.

Formiti Global data Privacy Experts provide DSAR management in both Outsourced Data Protection Officer and EU and UK GDPR representative Services