GDPR: Impact to Your Data Management Landscape: Part 2

Mat Keep


Welcome to part 2 of our 4-part blog series.

  • In part 1, we provided a primer into the GDPR – covering its rationale, and key measures
  • In todays part 2, we’ll explore what the GDPR means for your data platform
  • In part 3, we’ll discuss how MongoDB’s products and services can support you in your path to compliance
  • Finally, in part 4, we’ll examine how the GDPR can help in customer experience, and provide a couple of case studies.

If you can’t wait for all 4 parts of the series, but would rather get started now, download the complete GDPR: Impact to Your Data Management Landscape white paper today.

Mapping GDPR to Required Database Capabilities

Like other regulations designed to enforce data security and privacy standards (e.g., HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, FISMA, FERPA), GDPR compliance can be achieved only by applying a combination of controls that we can summarize as People, Processes, and Products:
  • “People” defines specific roles, responsibilities, and accountability.
  • “Processes” defines operating principles and business practices.
  • “Products” defines technologies used for data storage and processing.

As with any data security regulation, enabling controls in a database storing personal data is just one step towards compliance – people and processes also are essential. There are, however, specific requirements stated in the GDPR text that define a set of controls organizations need to implement across their data management landscape. We can group these requirements into three areas:

  • Discover: scope data subjects to the regulation.
  • Defend: implement measures to protect discovered data.
  • Detect: identify a breach against that data, and remediate security and process gaps.

The following section of the post examines GDPR requirements, and maps them back to the required database capabilities. Please note that the list below is illustrative only, and is not designed to be exhaustive.


Before implementing security controls, an organization first needs to identify personal data stored in its databases, and for how long the organization is permitted to retain that data. They also need to assess the potential impact to the individual, should the personal data be disclosed to an unauthorized party.

Identification of Impact to Personal Data

The GDPR requires organizations to undertake a Data Protection Impact Assessment, documented in Article 35 (clause 1) of the GDPR text, stating:

“Where a type of processing in particular using new technologies, and taking into account the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing, is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons, the controller shall, prior to the processing, carry out an assessment of the impact of the envisaged processing operations on the protection of personal data.”

It is therefore important to have access to tools that enable the data controller to quickly and conveniently review their database content, and as part of an ongoing discovery process, to inspect what additional data will be captured as new services are under development.

Retention of Personal Data

As noted in “Information to be Provided”, Article 13 (clause 2a), the GDPR text specifies that at the time data is collected from an individual, the organization must state:

“the period for which the personal data will be stored, or if that is not possible, the criteria used to determine that period”

Therefore, a required capability that the organization will need to implement is the ability to identify personal data, and securely erase it from the database once the expiration period has been reached, or an individual specifically requests erasure. As a result, storage, including backups, should have the ability to provably erase data as requested by owner.


Once the organization has conducted its Discover phase, with an Impact Assessment and expiration policies defined, they need to implement the controls that will protect citizen data.

General Security Requirements of the GDPR

The “Security of Processing”, Article 32 (clause 1) provides an overview of security controls an organization needs to enforce:

“….the controller and the processor shall implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk, including inter alia as appropriate:

(a) the pseudonymisation and encryption of personal data; (b) the ability to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of processing systems and services; (c) the ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident; (d) a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures for ensuring the security of the processing.”

Each of the bulleted clauses is further expanded upon within the GDPR text, as follows.

Access Control

The GDPR emphasizes the importance of ensuring that only authorized users can access personal data. As stated in the text “Data Protection by Design and by Default”, Article 25 (clause 2):

“The controller shall implement appropriate technical and organisational measures for ensuring that, by default, only personal data which are necessary for each specific purpose of the processing are processed”

This requirement is further reinforced in Article 29, “Processing Under the Authority of the Controller or Processor”, stating

“The processor and any person acting under the authority of the controller or of the processor, who has access to personal data, shall not process those data except on instructions from the controller….”

Within the database, it should be possible to enforce authentication controls so that only clients (e.g., users, applications, administrators) authorized by the data processor can access the data. The database should also allow data controllers to define the specific roles, responsibilities, and duties each client can perform against the data. For example, some clients may be permitted to read all of the source data collected on a data subject, while others may only have permissions to access aggregated data that contains no reference back to personal identifiers. This approach permits a fine-grained segregation of duties and privileges for each data processor.

Pseudonymisation & Encryption

In the event of a breach, the pseudonymisation and encryption of data is designed to prevent the identification of any specific individual from compromised data. In the definitions section of the GDPR text, pseudonymisation means:

“….the processing of personal data in such a manner that the personal data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of additional information”

Clause 28 of the general regulations states:

“The application of pseudonymisation to personal data can reduce the risks to the data subjects concerned and help controllers and processors to meet their data-protection obligations.”

One of the most effective and efficient means of pseudonymising data is based on the access control privileges defined in the previous step. The database redacts personal identifiers by filtering query results returned to applications.

Encryption is specifically referenced in Article 32 (clause 1) referenced above. The advantages of encryption are further expanded in the text for “Communication of a Personal Data Breach to the Data Subject”, Article 34 (clause 3a), stating communication to the data subject is not required if:

“the controller has implemented appropriate technical and organisational protection measures, and those measures were applied to the personal data affected by the personal data breach, in particular those that render the personal data unintelligible to any person who is not authorised to access it, such as encryption;”

The database should provide a means to encrypt both data “in-transit” using network connections, and data “at-rest” using storage and backups.

Resilience and Disaster Recovery

As stated in bullets B and C in the “The Security of Processing”, Article 32 cited above, systems and service availability, along with a means to restore data in a timely fashion, are both core operational requirements of the GDPR.

As a result, the database needs to offer fault tolerance to systems failures, along with backup and recovery mechanisms to enable disaster recovery.

Data Sovereignty: Data Transfers Outside of the EU

Chapter 5 of the GDPR is dedicated to how the transfer of personal data outside of the EU should be handled – defining when such transfers are permissible and when they are not. Key to understanding data transfer is that EU citizen rights under the GDPR accompany the data to wherever it is moved globally, where the same safeguards must be applied. To summarize the chapter, Article 45 (clause 1) states:

“A transfer of personal data to a third country or an international organisation may take place where the Commission has decided that the third country, a territory or one or more specified sectors within that third country, or the international organisation in question ensures an adequate level of protection.”

To support globally distributed applications, organizations are increasingly distributing data to data centers and cloud facilities located in multiple countries across the globe. In context of the GDPR, it should be possible for the database to enforce data sovereignty policies by only distributing and storing EU citizen data to regions recognized as complying with the regulation.


In the event of a data breach, the organization must be able, in timely fashion, to detect and report on the issue, and also generate a record of what activities had been performed against the data.

Monitoring and Reporting

Monitoring is always critical to identifying potential exploits. The closer to real time, the better chance of limiting the impact of data breaches. For example, sudden peaks in database resource consumption can indicate an attack in progress at the very moment it happens.

In the GDPR text “Notification of a Personal Data Breach to the Supervisory Authority”, Article 33 (clause 1), it is stated:

“In the case of a personal data breach, the controller shall without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of it, notify the personal data breach to the supervisory authority….”

As a result, the database should offer management tools that enable constant monitoring of database behavior to proactively mitigate threats, and that enable the organization to report on any breaches within the specified timeframes.


“Data Protection by Design and by Default”, Article 25 (clause 2) emphasizes the requirement to maintain a log of activities performed against the data:

“….Each controller and, where applicable, the controller's representative, shall maintain a record of processing activities under its responsibility”

“Processor”, Article 28 (clause 3H) further expands on the requirement for auditing, stating that the data processor:

“makes available to the controller all information necessary to demonstrate compliance with the obligations laid down in this Article and allow for and contribute to audits, including inspections, conducted by the controller or another auditor mandated by the controller.”

The database needs to offer a mechanism to record database activity, and present that activity for forensic analysis when requested by the controller.

Wrapping Up Part 2

That wraps up the second part of our 4-part blog series. In Part 3, we’ll discuss how MongoDB’s products and services can help you meet the requirements we’ve discussed today

Remember, if you want to get started right now, download the complete GDPR: Impact to Your Data Management Landscape white paper today.

For a full description of the GDPR’s regulations, roles, and responsibilities, it is recommended that readers refer to the text of the GDPR (Regulation (EU) 2016/679), available from the Official Journal of the European Union, and refer to legal counsel for the interpretation of how the regulations apply to their organization. Further, in order to effectively achieve the functionality described in this blog series, it is critical to ensure that the database is implemented according to the specifications and instructions detailed in the MongoDB security documentation. Readers should consider engaging MongoDB Global Consulting Services to assist with implementation.