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In the intricate data protection landscape, understanding the lawful bases for processing personal data is paramount for any organisation committed to compliance and ethical practices. Among these bases, ‘legitimate interests’ is a particularly nuanced and flexible option under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This article, Navigating GDPR: Legitimate Interests as a Lawful Basis For Processing, delves into the essence of the ‘legitimate interests’ lawful basis, offering clarity on when and how it can be applied, the critical tests involved, and the importance of maintaining documented assessments. Whether you are a data protection officer, a compliance manager, or simply keen on understanding GDPR’s applications, this guide provides valuable insights into navigating legitimate interests effectively and responsibly.


What is the ‘Legitimate Interests’ Lawful Basis?

The concept of ‘legitimate interests’ is one of the six lawful bases for processing personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It permits organisations to process personal data if they have a genuine and legitimate reason, including commercial benefit, provided this does not override the rights and freedoms of the data subject. Unlike other bases, it is not centred on contractual necessity, legal obligation, or explicit consent but rather on a balance of interests between the data controller and the individual.


When Can We Rely on Legitimate Interests?

Relying on legitimate interests is suitable when the data processing is not required by law but is clearly beneficial to the organisation or third parties. It’s often applied in situations where individuals reasonably expect their data to be used in a certain way. This could include direct marketing, fraud prevention, network and information security, or data analytics. However, such interests mustn’t infringe on the privacy and rights of the individuals concerned.


How Can We Apply Legitimate Interests in Practice?

I think applying legitimate interests effectively requires a thorough understanding of both the nature of your interest and the potential impact on individuals. Businesses should conduct a careful assessment to determine whether their interests are legitimate and necessary and whether they outweigh any potential adverse impact on the individuals. Clear communication with data subjects about the processing activities under this lawful basis is also vital for transparency and trust.


What Else Do We Need to Consider?

Beyond the initial assessment, organisations must ensure ongoing compliance with GDPR principles. This includes upholding data accuracy, minimising data collection, and implementing appropriate security measures. Additionally, it’s crucial to respect individuals’ rights, such as their right to object to data processing based on legitimate interests.


The Three-Part Test: Purpose Test, Necessity Test, and the Balancing Test

The application of legitimate interests involves a three-part test commonly known as LIA ( Legitimate Interest Assessment):

  • Purpose Test: Establishing a clear and specific purpose for the data processing is essential. The interests pursued need to be legitimate for the specific context.
  • Necessity Test: This involves determining if the processing is necessary for the purposes of the legitimate interests identified. It’s about balancing the necessity of processing and the individual’s rights and freedoms.
  • Balancing Test: The final step is to balance the identified legitimate interests against the individual’s interests, rights, and freedoms. This test ensures that these interests do not override the fundamental rights of the data subjects.


Keeping a Documented Record of Legitimate Interest Assessments

Documentation is a critical aspect of GDPR compliance. Organisations should keep a detailed record of their Legitimate Interest Assessments (LIAs). These records should include the decision-making process, the three-part test outcomes, and measures taken to safeguard individual rights. Proper documentation ensures compliance and serves as evidence of responsible data processing practices.


Legitimate interests provide a flexible yet responsible basis for processing personal data, balancing organisational needs with individual rights. Understanding and correctly applying this lawful basis is crucial for any organisation aiming to process data compliant and ethically. Businesses can uphold data protection standards by conducting thorough assessments and maintaining clear records while pursuing their legitimate interests.