'Special category' data under the UK GDPR

The UK GDPR classifies some data as 'special category', meaning it's sensitive and needs more protection. Find out what kind of data is defined this way in schools, and the conditions you can use to justify processing it.

Last reviewed on 12 April 2023
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 34954
  1. What counts as 'special category' data?
  2. Conditions for processing special category data
  3. Be aware of the risks of processing special category data

What counts as 'special category' data?

'Special category’ data is personal data that's more sensitive because there could be significant risks posed to an individual's rights and freedoms if it's lost or stolen. Therefore, this kind of data needs more protection. 

It includes personal data that reveals:

  • Racial or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Trade union membership

And data concerning:

  • Genetic information
  • Biometrics (such as fingerprints, retina and iris patterns), where used for identification purposes
  • Health – physical or mental
  • Sex life
  • Sexual orientation

Information that reveals details about an individual, could be for example: 

  • The name and gender of a person's spouse, which would reveal the person's sexual orientation
  • A photograph, which could reveal some of the above characteristics of a person

Conditions for processing special category data

A lawful basis. You need a reason to 'justify' processing any personal data under Article 6 of the UK GDPR. See our article on which lawful