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A controller refers to the entity that determines the “purposes and means” of how personal data will be processed. Determining the “means” of processing refers to deciding “how” information will be processed.1 That does not mean, however, that a controller must make every decision with respect to the processing of information.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) distinguishes between “essential means” and “non-essential means”.”2 Essential means refers to those processing decisions that are closely linked to the purpose and the scope of processing and, therefore, considered by the EDPB to be “traditionally and inherently reserved to the controller.”3 In other words, essential means are decisions regarding how personal data will be processed that a controller cannot delegate to a third party. The EDPB has taken the position that one of the essential means of processing is determining “the categories of data subjects” whose information will be processed.4 Put differently, a controller is expected to answer the question of “whose personal data” will be processed.5 If, instead, a processor decides whose information should be processed there is a chance that a supervisory authority may view the processor as acting in the capacity of a controller in relation to the personal data.


1 EDPB, Guidelines 07/2020 on the concepts of controller and processor in the GDPR, Version 1, adopted 2 Sept. 2020, at ¶ 33.

2 EDPB, Guidelines 07/2020 on the concepts of controller and processor in the GDPR, Version 1, adopted 2 Sept. 2020, at ¶ 38.

3 EDPB, Guidelines 07/2020 on the concepts of controller and processor in the GDPR, Version 1, adopted 2 Sept. 2020, at ¶ 38.

4 EDPB, Guidelines 07/2020 on the concepts of controller and processor in the GDPR, Version 1, adopted 2 Sept. 2020, at ¶ 38.

5 EDPB, Guidelines 07/2020 on the concepts of controller and processor in the GDPR, Version 1, adopted 2 Sept. 2020, at ¶ 38.

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Photo of David A. Zetoony David A. Zetoony

David Zetoony, Co-Chair of the firm’s U.S. Data, Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice, focuses on helping businesses navigate data privacy and cyber security laws from a practical standpoint. David has helped hundreds of companies establish and maintain ongoing privacy and security programs, and he

David Zetoony, Co-Chair of the firm’s U.S. Data, Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice, focuses on helping businesses navigate data privacy and cyber security laws from a practical standpoint. David has helped hundreds of companies establish and maintain ongoing privacy and security programs, and he has defended corporate privacy and security practices in investigations initiated by the Federal Trade Commission, and other data privacy and security regulatory agencies around the world, as well as in class action litigation.

David receives regular recognitions from clients and peers for his knowledge and experience in the fields of data privacy and security. The National Law Journal named him a “Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Trailblazer,” JD Supra recognized him four times as one of the most widely read names when it comes to data privacy, cyber security, or the collection and use of data, and Lexology identified him six times as the top “legal influencer” in the area of technology, media, and telecommunications in the United States, the European Union, and in the context of cross-border transfers of information. He is the author of the American Bar Associations primary publication on the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and is writing the American Bar Associations primary publication on the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).