Data Subject Access Request (DSAR): What is it & How to Deal with it

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DSARs are an integral part of the data privacy landscape, giving consumers more control over their personal data. In this article, we will delve into the nature of DSARs, unpacking the ‘Right to Access’ that every consumer holds under data privacy laws like the GDPR. 

We’ll guide you through the process of effectively responding to a DSAR and outline the importance of DSAR compliance for businesses. Understanding these concepts will equip businesses to respect and protect consumers’ personal information while also staying on the right side of regulatory requirements.

Let’s dive right in.

Portal for processing data requests from Captain Compliance

Key Takeaways

  1. Data Subject Access Requests are crucial tools in data privacy, enabling consumers to exercise their ‘Right to Access’ personal information held by businesses.
  2. Complying with DSARs is not just a legal obligation under GDPR and similar regulations; it’s also a trust-building process, showing consumers that their data privacy is respected.
  3. Handling a DSAR effectively requires understanding its scope, acknowledging the request promptly, and ensuring accurate, comprehensive, and timely responses while ensuring proper safeguards to prevent data breaches.

What is a Data Subject Access Request (DSAR)?

A DSAR is a request made by a consumer to a business under data privacy laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The primary purpose of a DSAR is for the consumer to exercise their ‘Right to Access,’ which means they can ask any business to provide details about the personal information it holds about them. This can include the type of data, the reasons for processing, and who the data has been shared with.

Consumers can now understand what personal information a business has, how it’s being used, and who it is being shared with DSARs.

Compliance with DSARs is not only a legal requirement for businesses but also an integral part of demonstrating a commitment to data privacy.

Failure to properly comply with a DSAR can lead to significant penalties under the GDPR, including heavy fines and lost trust with customers.

The importance of DSARs in corporate compliance has been amplified in recent years with the rapid digitization of businesses, leading to an increase in the amount of personal information collected and processed. As a result, businesses need to have robust procedures in place to handle DSARs efficiently and effectively.

What is the ‘Right to Access’?

The ‘Right to Access’ is a fundamental principle of data privacy laws, including the GDPR. It is the right granted to consumers to access the personal information that businesses have collected about them. This right allows consumers to understand what data is being processed, how it’s used, who it’s shared with, and why the business is processing it.

When a consumer exercises their Right to Access through a DSAR, the business must provide a copy of the personal data they have on the individual.

Additionally, they should provide supplementary information such as the categories of data, the purposes of the processing, and any recipients of the personal data.

By issuing a DSAR, consumers are invoking their right to access. Consequently, the business’s response to the DSAR fulfills this consumer right.

Who Has the ‘Right to Access’?

Essentially, any individual (data subject) whose personal data is being processed by a business has the ‘Right to Access.’ This right is not confined to businesses of specific countries or regions; it’s based on where the consumer is. 

For example, under the GDPR, the ‘Right to Access’ applies to any individual who resides in the European Union, regardless of the business’s residence. The consumer’s right to issue a DSAR, therefore, extends as far as the reach of the applicable data protection law.

Data protection compliance services are a tool businesses can use to outsource compliance and maintain pristine compliance in their business.

How Can a Data Subject Submit a DSAR?

dsar template

The process for a consumer to submit a DSAR should be straightforward and accessible. Businesses must provide a clear and easily accessible method for individuals to exercise their Right to Access.

This could be through an online form on the business’s website, an email address, or even a postal address. The key is that it must be easy for the consumer to initiate a DSAR.

Typically, a DSAR will require the consumer to provide sufficient information to confirm their identity and ensure that the request is legitimate through security questions or documents. This protects against fraudulent requests that could lead to unauthorized disclosure of personal information.

This information usually includes basic contact details and any specific information that could assist the business in locating the requested data.

Once the DSAR is submitted, the business has a responsibility to acknowledge receipt of the request promptly, usually within a few days. They must then respond comprehensively to the request within a specific time frame, typically one month under GDPR. If the request is complex, the business may extend this period but should inform the consumer of any delay.

In their DSAR, the consumer should clearly specify the information they wish to access. However, they do not necessarily need to mention the GDPR or the ‘Right to Access’ specifically. As long as it’s clear that they are asking for their personal information, the business should treat the communication as a DSAR.

How to Respond to a DSAR

Responding to a DSAR is a crucial task for businesses. The response should be handled carefully and in accordance with the guidelines set by the relevant data protection authority. Before you start to handle any DSAR request, it’s highly advised to have viable data compliance solutions in place. 

The following steps provide a general guide on how to handle DSARs:

Acknowledge the DSAR

The first step when receiving a DSAR is to acknowledge it promptly. The consumer should receive confirmation that their request has been received and is being processed. This acknowledgment should also estimate when they can expect a full response. 

Ideally, the acknowledgment should occur within a few days, although this can be extended in complex cases. However, any extension must be communicated to the consumer with an explanation for the delay.

Verify the Identity of the Requester

Before processing the DSAR, the business should take steps to verify the requestor’s identity. This is to ensure that personal information is not disclosed to unauthorized individuals.

Here are some tips on verifying individuals.

  • Ask for further information to confirm the requester’s identity, such as answering security questions or providing additional identification documents.
  • It’s essential only to request what is necessary and to handle this data with the utmost care, as this process itself involves processing personal information.

When handling any SPI or PII information, strict identity verification must always be used to avoid any data breaches. 

Understand and Clarify the DSAR

The next step is to understand precisely what the consumer is asking for. DSARs can often be broad. For instance, a consumer might want to know what personal data is being held in general, or they might be requesting information about specific data processing activities.

If the DSAR is unclear, the business should contact the requester to clarify what information they want. This step can help streamline the process and ensure the response is relevant and useful to the consumer.

Gather the Requested Information

Once the business understands what is being asked, the next step is to gather the requested information. This process might involve multiple departments within the business, especially for larger organizations.

It’s important to ensure that all relevant data is included while excluding any information about other individuals. The collection of data can be done manually with a data protection officer or with a pre-established compliance solution.

Provide a Clear and Comprehensible Response

Finally, the business should provide a clear and comprehensible response to the DSAR. The response should include a copy of the requested personal data, along with any additional information the consumer is entitled to. 

The information should be presented in a concise, transparent, and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language.

These steps provide a general guide for businesses on responding to DSARs effectively and in compliance with data privacy laws.

However, it’s crucial for businesses to tailor these steps to their specific context, given the complexity and variability of data processing activities. If you want to outsource compliance for your businesses, our superheroes at Captain Compliance have you covered. 

Different Types of DSARs

Data subject access requests come in various forms, each catering to a specific right that consumers can exercise regarding their personal data. The nature of the request dictates how businesses should respond.

Below, we discuss different types of DSARs and offer brief guidance on how each should be handled:

Access to Data Summaries

One common type of DSAR is a request for a summary of the personal data held by a business. This is the most straightforward form of DSAR and requires the business to summarize the personal information it holds about the consumer, including what data is processed, why, and with whom it is shared.

Correction of Personal Data

A consumer may issue a DSAR asking for correction of their personal data if they believe it to be inaccurate or incomplete. In this case, the business should review the data and, if necessary, correct it. The consumer should be informed of any corrections made or if the data is found to be accurate, an explanation of why no changes were made.

Deletion of Personal Data

Also known as ‘the right to be forgotten,’ this type of DSAR involves a request to delete personal data. Depending on the jurisdiction, businesses might be obliged to erase personal data if the consumer withdraws consent, the data is no longer necessary, or it was unlawfully processed. However, there are exceptions, and legal advice should be sought in these cases.

Opt-Out Requests

Some DSARs involve a consumer wishing to opt out of certain data processing activities, such as direct marketing. In this situation, the business should cease the specified processing activity for that individual’s data and confirm the action with the consumer.

Employee DSARs

Employees also have the right to issue DSARs to their employers. These can be complex due to the range of data an employer might hold about an employee. As with other DSARs, employers should respond by providing the requested information within the legal time frame.

Each type of DSAR represents a different aspect of data rights. Businesses need to understand each kind and ensure they have the processes in place to handle them effectively, thereby ensuring compliance with data privacy laws.

Can You Refuse to Respond to a DSAR?

There may be circumstances where a business can legitimately refuse to respond to a DSAR. This usually occurs when the request is manifestly unfounded or excessive. But the right to refuse a DSAR is not absolute and should be the exception, not the norm.

Under the GDPR, a request is considered manifestly unfounded if the individual clearly has no intention to exercise their legitimate rights. For instance, if a consumer uses a DSAR to harass a company with no real purpose to access their personal data, the DSAR might be seen as manifestly unfounded.

A privacy consultant can be beneficial in cases where it’s hard to distinguish legitimate data access requests. 

Similarly, a DSAR might be considered excessive if the individual repeatedly requests the same information. However, the interpretation of these terms can be subjective, and it’s recommended to seek legal advice before refusing a DSAR on these grounds.

Refusing a DSAR should be a last resort and needs to be carefully justified. Businesses must remember that the intention behind DSARs is to enhance transparency and build trust between consumers and businesses. Refusing a DSAR without valid grounds can harm this trust and potentially lead to investigations and fines from data protection authorities.

In all cases, if a business refuses a DSAR, it must inform the consumer of their decision and the reasons behind it, as well as their right to make a complaint to the relevant supervisory authority.


Given the nuances involved in handling DSARs, businesses may seek support to ensure they are managing these requests in the most efficient and compliant way possible.

This is where Captain Compliance can assist. We provide a range of compliance services to simplify the process of managing DSARs, ensuring businesses are equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to meet these demands confidently and effectively. 

From guiding you on how to acknowledge and verify DSARs to assisting in gathering requested information and drafting clear, comprehensible responses, our team of data privacy experts is ready to help.

Captain Compliance is your trusted partner for compliance. We can help you navigate through GDPR requirements and other data privacy laws. By prioritizing your consumers’ data rights and privacy, we help you turn regulatory compliance into a competitive advantage, setting your business apart in the market. 

Get in touch with us today to get further help with getting your business legally compliant.


What happens if a business fails to respond to a DSAR in time?

If a business fails to respond to a DSAR within the prescribed time limit (typically one month under GDPR), it may face penalties from the relevant data protection authority.

This could include fines, audits, or even a temporary ban on data processing activities. It’s crucial to respond to DSARs promptly and within the required timeframe.

Discover the requirements for data protection under the GDPR.

Can a business charge a fee to handle a DSAR?

Under GDPR, businesses generally can’t charge a fee to handle a DSAR. However, if a request is manifestly unfounded or excessive, a business may charge a reasonable fee for the administrative costs of providing the information or communication or taking the requested action.

Find out more about data privacy and compliance services.

How can a business ensure the DSAR process is efficient?

Having a well-structured data management system can significantly streamline the DSAR process. Businesses should aim for a system that allows for accessible locations and extraction of personal data. Additionally, employee training on data privacy laws and DSARs is also crucial for an efficient response process.

Discover more about proper employee compliance training.

How should a business deal with third-party data in a DSAR response?

When responding to a DSAR, a business must ensure it doesn’t disclose information about third parties, which could breach their privacy rights. Careful examination and potential redaction of data may be necessary to ensure third-party data is protected.

Find out more about what type of data rights subjects hold under the GDPR

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