On January 12, 2023, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) issued a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of the right of access to personal data (Article 15 GDPR). The CJEU ruled that the right of access entails the right to know the specific identity of recipients of the personal data.  

The CJEU was asked whether the GDPR leaves the data controller the choice to disclose either the specific identity of the recipients or only the categories of recipient, or whether it gives the data subject the right to know their specific identity.  

The highlights of the judgment are:  

  • The data subject has the right to know the specific identity of the recipients of his personal data as part of his/her right of access under Article 15(1)(c) of the GDPR. Informing the data subjects only about the categories of recipients, e.g., advertisers, IT companies, mailing list providers, is not sufficient.  
  • The right of access is necessary to enable the data subject to exercise other rights conferred by the GDPR, namely the right to rectification, right to erasure, right to restriction of processing, right to object to processing or right of action where he/she suffers damage. If the data subject is not informed about the identity of the recipients, the exercise of these rights vis-á-vis these recipients would be restricted.  
  • Therefore, where the personal data have been or will be disclosed to recipients, the data controller is obliged to provide the data subject, on request, with the actual identity of those recipients, unless it is not (yet) possible to identify those recipients, or the controller demonstrates that the request is manifestly unfounded or excessive.  

The information obligation under Articles 13 and 14 of the GDPR gives the data controller the right to inform data subjects only about the categories of recipients. The importance of the judgment lies in the fact that the data subject’s right to know the identity of recipients seems to prevail the data controller’s right to only disclose the categories of recipients.  

This ruling highlights the importance of maintaining a clear record of processing activities. Accordingly, the data controllers should keep track of the actual identity of recipients for each data transfer and duly reflect the names of specific recipients in their record of processing activities as recording only the categories of recipients in the registry would not be sufficient to fully comply with Article 15(1)(c) of the GDPR.  


How does your organisation handle data subject rights or keep the record of processing activities? Contact us, experts in data privacy, if you want to learn more via info@dpoconsultancy.nl.