The six lawful bases for processing personal data

The six lawful bases for processing personal data are set out in Article 6 of the GDPR. At least one of these must apply whenever you process personal data:

  1. Consent: the individual has given clear consent for you to process their personal data for a specific purpose.
  2. Contract: the processing is necessary for a contract you have with the individual, or because they have asked you to take specific steps before entering into a contract.
  3. Legal obligation: the processing is necessary for you to comply with the law (not including contractual obligations).
  4. Vital interests: the processing is necessary to protect someone’s life.
  5. Public task: the processing is necessary for you to perform a task in the public interest or for your official functions, and the task or function has a clear basis in law.
  6. 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.)
You need to remember that:
  • No single basis is ’better’ or more important than the others – which basis is most appropriate to use will depend on your purpose and relationship with the individual.
  • Most lawful bases require that processing is ‘necessary’. If you can reasonably achieve the same purpose without the processing, you won’t have a lawful basis.
  • You must determine your lawful basis before you begin processing personal data, and you should document it.
  • You need to take care to get it right first time – you should not swap to a different lawful basis at a later date without good reason.
  • Your privacy notice should include your lawful basis for processing as well as the purposes of the processing. (see our section on privacy notices)
  • If your purposes change, you may be able to continue processing under the original lawful basis if your new purpose is compatible with your initial purpose – unless your original lawful basis was consent (see our section on obtaining consent).
  • If you are processing special category data you need to identify both a lawful basis for general processing and an additional condition for processing this type of data.
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