Guidelines & Case Law
(51) Personal data which are, by their nature, particularly sensitive in relation to fundamental rights and freedoms merit specific protection as the context of their processing could create significant risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms. Those personal data should include personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, whereby the use of the term ‘racial origin’ in this Regulation does not imply an acceptance by the Union of theories which attempt to determine the existence of separate human races. The processing of photographs should not systematically be considered to be processing of special categories of personal data as they are covered by the definition of biometric data only when processed through a specific technical means allowing the unique identification or authentication of a natural person. Such personal data should not be processed, unless processing is allowed in specific cases set out in this Regulation, taking into account that Member States law may lay down specific provisions on data protection in order to adapt the application of the rules of this Regulation for compliance with a legal obligation or for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller. In addition to the specific requirements for such processing, the general principles and other rules of this Regulation should apply, in particular as regards the conditions for lawful processing. Derogations from the general prohibition for processing such special categories of personal data should be explicitly provided, inter alia, where the data subject gives his or her explicit consent or in respect of specific needs in particular where the processing is carried out in the course of legitimate activities by certain associations or foundations the purpose of which is to permit the exercise of fundamental freedoms.
(52) Derogating from the prohibition on processing special categories of personal data should also be allowed when provided for in Union or Member State law and subject to suitable safeguards, so as to protect personal data and other fundamental rights, where it is in the public interest to do so, in particular processing personal data in the field of employment law, social protection law including pensions and for health security, monitoring and alert purposes, the prevention or control of communicable diseases and other serious threats to health. Such a derogation may be made for health purposes, including public health and the management of health-care services, especially in order to ensure the quality and cost-effectiveness of the procedures used for settling claims for benefits and services in the health insurance system, or for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes. A derogation should also allow the processing of such personal data where necessary for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims, whether in court proceedings or in an administrative or out-of-court procedure.
(53) Special categories of personal data which merit higher protection should be processed for health-related purposes only where necessary to achieve those purposes for the benefit of natural persons and society as a whole, in particular in the context of the management of health or social care services and systems, including processing by the management and central national health authorities of such data for the purpose of quality control, management information and the general national and local supervision of the health or social care system, and ensuring continuity of health or social care and cross-border healthcare or health security, monitoring and alert purposes, or for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes, based on Union or Member State law which has to meet an objective of public interest, as well as for studies conducted in the public interest in the area of public health. Therefore, this Regulation should provide for harmonised conditions for the processing of special categories of personal data concerning health, in respect of specific needs, in particular where the processing of such data is carried out for certain health-related purposes by persons subject to a legal obligation of professional secrecy. Union or Member State law should provide for specific and suitable measures so as to protect the fundamental rights and the personal data of natural persons. Member States should be allowed to maintain or introduce further conditions, including limitations, with regard to the processing of genetic data, biometric data or data concerning health. However, this should not hamper the free flow of personal data within the Union when those conditions apply to cross-border processing of such data.
(54) The processing of special categories of personal data may be necessary for reasons of public interest in the areas of public health without consent of the data subject. Such processing should be subject to suitable and specific measures so as to protect the rights and freedoms of natural persons. In that context, ‘public health’ should be interpreted as defined in Regulation (EC) No 1338/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council , namely all elements related to health, namely health status, including morbidity and disability, the determinants having an effect on that health status, health care needs, resources allocated to health care, the provision of, and universal access to, health care as well as health care expenditure and financing, and the causes of mortality. Such processing of data concerning health for reasons of public interest should not result in personal data being processed for other purposes by third parties such as employers or insurance and banking companies.
(55) Moreover, the processing of personal data by official authorities for the purpose of achieving the aims, laid down by constitutional law or by international public law, of officially recognised religious associations, is carried out on grounds of public interest.
(56) Where in the course of electoral activities, the operation of the democratic system in a Member State requires that political parties compile personal data on people's political opinions, the processing of such data may be permitted for reasons of public interest, provided that appropriate safeguards are established.
Article 29 Working Party, Opinion 2/2010 on behavioural advertising (2010):
Any possible targeting of data subjects based on sensitive information opens the possibility of abuse. Furthermore, given the sensitivity of such information and the possible awkward situations which may arise if individuals receive advertising that reveals, for example, sexual preferences or political activity, offering/using interest categories that would reveal sensitive data should be discouraged.
In this context, the only available legal ground that would legitimize the data processing would be explicit, separate prior opt-in consent. The requirement for a separate, affirmative prior indication of the data subjects’ agreement means that in no case would an opt-out consent mechanism meet the requirement of the law. It also means that such consent could not be obtained through browser settings. To lawfully collect and process this type of information, ad network providers would have to set up mechanisms to obtain explicit prior consent, separate from other consent obtained for processing in general.
EDPB, Assessing the Necessity of Measures That Limit the Fundamental Right to the Protection of Personal Data: A Toolkit (2017).
WP29, Opinion on data processing at work (2017).
European Commission, Commission Guidance on the application of Union data protection law in the electoral context, A contribution from the European Commission to the Leaders’ meeting in Salzburg on 19-20 September 2018.
EDPB, Guidelines on Assessing the Proportionality of Measures That Limit the Fundamental Rights to Privacy and to the Protection of Personal Data (2019).
EDPB, Guidelines on the use of location data and contact tracing tools in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak (2020).
EDPB, Guidelines 8/2020 on the targeting of social media users (2020).
EDPB, Guidelines 3/2020 on the Processing of Data Concerning Health for the Purpose of Scientific Research in the Context of the Covid-19 Outbreak (2020).
EDPB, Guidelines 3/2019 on Processing of Personal Data through Video Devices (2020).
European Commission, Guidance on Apps supporting the fight against COVID 19 pandemic in relation to data protection Brussels (2020).
EDPB, Guidelines 02/2021 on Virtual Voice Assistants (2021).
Grainger Plc v. Nicholson,  ICR 360.
CJEC, Lindqvist, C-101/01 (2003).
Eur. Court HR (Grand Chamber), López Ribalda v. Spain, nos. 1874/13 and 8567/13 (2019).
Eur. Court HR, Gaughran v. United Kingdom, no. 45245/15 (2020).