a.    The Access Principle in Practice
  • i.    Under the Privacy Shield Principles, the right of access is fundamental to privacy protection.  In particular, it allows individuals to verify the accuracy of information held about them.  The Access Principle means that individuals have the right to: 
  • 1.    obtain from an organization confirmation of whether or not the organization is processing personal data relating to them;4  
  • 2.    have communicated to them such data so that they could verify its accuracy and the lawfulness of the processing; and
  • 3.    have the data corrected, amended or deleted where it is inaccurate or processed in violation of the Principles. 
  • ii.    Individuals do not have to justify requests for access to their personal data.  In responding to individuals’ access requests, organizations should first be guided by the concern(s) that led to the requests in the first place.  For example, if an access request is vague or broad in scope, an organization may engage the individual in a dialogue so as to better understand the motivation for the request and to locate responsive information.  The organization might inquire about which part(s) of the organization the individual interacted with or about the nature of the information or its use that is the subject of the access request. 
  • iii.    Consistent with the fundamental nature of access, organizations should always make good faith efforts to provide access.  For example, where certain information needs to be protected and can be readily separated from other personal information subject to an access request, the organization should redact the protected information and make available the other information.  If an organization determines that access should be restricted in any particular instance, it should provide the individual requesting access with an explanation of why it has made that determination and a contact point for any further inquiries.
b.    Burden or Expense of Providing Access
  • i.    The right of access to personal data may be restricted in exceptional circumstances where the legitimate rights of persons other than the individual would be violated or where the burden or expense of providing access would be disproportionate to the risks to the individual’s privacy in the case in question.  Expense and burden are important factors and should be taken into account but they are not controlling factors in determining whether providing access is reasonable.  
  • ii.    For example, if the personal information is used for decisions that will significantly affect the individual (e.g., the denial or grant of important benefits, such as insurance, a mortgage, or a job), then consistent with the other provisions of these Supplemental Principles, the organization would have to disclose that information even if it is relatively difficult or expensive to provide.  If the personal information requested is not sensitive or not used for decisions that will significantly affect the individual, but is readily available and inexpensive to provide, an organization would have to provide access to such information.
c.    Confidential Commercial Information
  • i.    Confidential commercial information is information that an organization has taken steps to protect from disclosure, where disclosure would help a competitor in the market.  Organizations may deny or limit access to the extent that granting full access would reveal its own confidential commercial information, such as marketing inferences or classifications generated by the organization, or the confidential commercial information of another that is subject to a contractual obligation of confidentiality.  
  • ii.    Where confidential commercial information can be readily separated from other personal information subject to an access request, the organization should redact the confidential commercial information and make available the non-confidential information. 
d.    Organization of Data Bases
  • i.    Access can be provided in the form of disclosure of the relevant personal information by an organization to the individual and does not require access by the individual to an organization’s data base.
  • ii.    Access needs to be provided only to the extent that an organization stores the personal information.  The Access Principle does not itself create any obligation to retain, maintain, reorganize, or restructure personal information files.
e.    When Access May be Restricted
  • i.    As organizations must always make good faith efforts to provide individuals with access to their personal data, the circumstances in which organizations may restrict such access are limited, and any reasons for restricting access must be specific.  As under the Directive, an organization can restrict access to information to the extent that disclosure is likely to interfere with the safeguarding of important countervailing public interests, such as national security; defense; or public security.  In addition, where personal information is processed solely for research or statistical purposes, access may be denied.  Other reasons for denying or limiting access are:
  • 1.    interference with the execution or enforcement of the law or with private causes of action, including the prevention, investigation or detection of offenses or the right to a fair trial;
  • 2.    disclosure where the legitimate rights or important interests of others would be violated;
  • 3.    breaching a legal or other professional privilege or obligation;
  • 4.    prejudicing employee security investigations or grievance proceedings or in connection with employee succession planning and corporate re-organizations; or
  • 5.    prejudicing the confidentiality necessary in monitoring, inspection or regulatory functions connected with sound management, or in future or ongoing negotiations involving the organization.
  • ii.    An organization which claims an exception has the burden of demonstrating its necessity, and the reasons for restricting access and a contact point for further inquiries should be given to individuals.
f.    Right to Obtain Confirmation and Charging a Fee to Cover the Costs for Providing Access
  • i.    An individual has the right to obtain confirmation of whether or not this organization has personal data relating to him or her.  An individual also has the right to have communicated to him or her personal data relating to him or her.  An organization may charge a fee that is not excessive. 
  • ii.    Charging a fee may be justified, for example, where requests for access are manifestly excessive, in particular because of their repetitive character. 
  • iii.    Access may not be refused on cost grounds if the individual offers to pay the costs.
g.    Repetitious or Vexatious Requests for Access
  • i.    An organization may set reasonable limits on the number of times within a given period that access requests from a particular individual will be met.  In setting such limitations, an organization should consider such factors as the frequency with which information is updated, the purpose for which the data are used, and the nature of the information.
h.    Fraudulent Requests for Access
  • i.    An organization is not required to provide access unless it is supplied with sufficient information to allow it to confirm the identity of the person making the request.
i.    Timeframe for Responses
  • i.    Organizations should respond to access requests within a reasonable time period, in a reasonable manner, and in a form that is readily intelligible to the individual.  An organization that provides information to data subjects at regular intervals may satisfy an individual access request with its regular disclosure if it would not constitute an excessive delay.


4. The organization should answer requests from an individual concerning the purposes of the processing, the categories of personal data concerned, and the recipients or categories of recipients to whom the personal data is disclosed.