Category: Belgian DPA

CJEU Advocate General’s opinion on GDPR’s One-Stop-Shop mechanism

26. January 2021

On January 13, 2021, the Advocate General (“AG”) of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) published an opinion in the case of Facebook Ireland Limited, Facebook INC, Facebook Belgium BVBA v the Belgian Data Protection Authority “Gegevensbeschermingsautoriteit” (“Belgian DPA”), addressing the General Data Protection Regulation’s (“GDPR”) One-Stop-Shop mechanism.

In 2015, the Belgian DPA initiated several legal proceedings against Facebook Group members in local courts. The allegation was that Facebook placed cookies on devices of Belgian users without their consent, thereby collecting data in an excessive manner. Facebook argued that with the GDPR becoming applicable in 2018, the Belgian DPA lost its competence to continue the legal proceedings, as Facebook’s lead supervisory authority under the GDPR is the Irish Data Protection Commission. The Belgian Court of Appeal referred several questions to the CJEU, including whether the GDPR’s One-Stop-Shop regime prevented national DPA’s from initiating proceedings in the national courts when it is not the lead DPA.

The AG responded that, in his opinion, the lead DPA has the general jurisdiction over cross-border data processing, while a national DPA may exceptionally bring proceedings before its own national courts. The national DPA’s right is subject to the One-Stop-Shop regime and cooperation and consistency mechanism of the GDPR. Thus, each national DPA has the competence to initiate proceedings against possible infringements affecting its territory, the significant regulatory role of the lead DPA limits this competence with respect to cross-border data processing.

One of the concerns expressed by the Belgian DPA was the risk of insufficient enforcement if only lead DPA’s may act against organizations that do not comply with the GDPR. In this regard, the GA emphasizes that Art. 61 GDPR specifically provides for appropriate mechanisms to address such concerns. National DPA’s have the possibility to ask the lead DPA for assistance in investigations, and if such assistance is not provided, the national DPA concerned may take action itself.

In certain circumstances, the AG sees the possibility for national DPAs not acting as lead DPA to initiate proceedings before their national court, if

  • the DPA is acting outside of the material scope of the GDPR; e.g., because the processing does not involve personal data;
  • cross-border data processing is carried out by public authorities, in the public interest, or to comply with legal obligations;
  • the processor is not established in the EU;
  • there is an urgent need to act to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects (Art. 66 GDPR);
  • the lead DPA has decided not to process a case.

With regards to data subjects, the AG notes that data subjects can bring action against any controller or processor before the court of their Member State and may file a complaint with their Member State’s DPA, regardless of which Member State’s DPA is the lead DPA.

The AG’s opinion is not legally binding on the CJEU, although the CJEU will take it into account. A final judgment of the CJEU is expected in the coming months. Thereafter, the Belgian Court of Appeal will have to decide its case in accordance with the CJEU’s judgment. The CJEU’s decision will most likely have a lasting impact on the division of roles between lead DPAs and other national DPAs, as well as on the ability of national DPAs to take enforcement actions into their own hands.

Belgian DPA planning to suspend websites that infringe GDPR

8. December 2020

The Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) signed a Cooperation Agreement on November 26, 2020, with DNS Belgium, the organization behind the management of the “.be” country-code domain name. The background is to allow DNS Belgium to suspend “.be” websites that are infringing the GDPR. The Agreement builds up a two-tier cooperation system, which aims at identifying infringements and suspending the websites if no action is taken.

The first step is a cooperative investigation, for which DNS Belgium has to support the Belgian DPA by providing all information necessary for the investigation.

The second step is the “Notice and Action” procedure, during which, if the Belgian DPA’s Investigation Service considers a data processing activity conducted via a website with a “.be” domain name to infringe one of the data protection principles under the GDPR, and the responsible data controller or data processor does not comply with the DPA’s order to suspend, limit, freeze or end the data processing activity, the Investigation Service is authorized to send a “Notice and Action” notification to DNS Belgium. Once DNS Belgium receives the “Notice and Action” notification, they will proceed to inform the website owner about the infringement and re-direct the relevant domain name to a warning page of the Belgian DPA.

The website owner can take remedial measures within 14 days to remedy the infringement, upon which he can indicate it to the Belgian DPA. If the Belgian DPA does not contest the measures taken, the relevant domain name will be restored. However, if the infringement is not remediated during the 14-day period, the website will continuously to be re-directed to the Belgian DPA’s warning page for a period of six months. After this time the website will be cancelled and placed in quarantine for 40 days before becoming available for registration once again.

Due to the heavy penalty in cases of a controller not taking any action to remedy the infringement, this action by the Belgian DPA is only possible in cases of infringements that cause very serious harm and are committed by natural or legal persons who deliberately infringe the law, or continue a data processing activity despite a prior order by the Investigation Service of the Belgian DPA to suspend, limit, freeze or end the processing activity.

It is to note that the Inspector General of the Belgian DPA can provide extra time to a website owner to comply with the relevant data protection requirements at the Inspector General’s discretion. However, this will depend on a case by case basis and on the cooperation of the website owner.

Belgian DPA releases Guidance and FAQs on Cookies and Trackers

23. April 2020

On Thursday, April 9th 2020, the Belgian Data Protection Authority (Belgian DPA) has issued a guidance along with frequently asked question on the subject of cookies and other tracking technologies.

The key points presented by the guidance revolve around the definitions of cookies, what needs to be presented in a cookie policy, how the consent of data subjects needs to be obtained and which requirements it needs to fulfill, as well as the storage period of a cookie on a user’s device.

The Belgian DPA made it clear that of the utmost importance is the transparency of the cookie usage. That entails that the users need to be informed about the scope of each individual cookie used. This should be done through a cookie policy on the website. The cookie policy needs to be written in a language the targeted users of the website can understand, as well as be easily accessible, e.g. through a hyperlink.

Specifically, these cookie policies need to include and inform about:

  • identification of the cookies used;
  • their purposes and duration;
  • whether third-parties have access to such cookies;
  • information about how to delete cookies;
  • the legal basis relied upon for the use of cookies;
  • information about individuals’ data protection rights and the ability to lodge a complaint to the competent data protection authority;
  • information about any automated decision making, including profiling.

In order to be able to use cookies, the consent of the user needs to be obtained. The Belgian DPA stated in their guidance that the consent has to be obtained for the use of all non-essential cookies, which means all cookies that are not necessary for a user requested function of the website. A necessary cookie would be, for example, the cookie to remember the item in a user’s cart, or cookies that enable booking communication with a user.

The consent especially needs to be:

  • obtained for the use of all non-essential cookies, as well as all social media plugins;
  • informed, specifically, prior to giving their consent to the use of cookies, users must be provided with information regarding the use of cookies: The information that needs to be given to the data subjects are the entity responsible for the use of cookies, the cookies’ purposes,  the data collected through the use of cookies, and their expiration. Users must also be informed about their rights with respect to cookies, including the right to withdraw their consent;
  • granulated, whereas in a first instance, users need to decide between what types of cookies they want to give consent to, and in a second instance, users can decide exactly which cookies they want to give consent to;
  • unambiguous and provided through a clear affirmative action.

Further, it is also important to keep in mind that the Belgian DPA has confirmed that cookie walls are unlawful, and that companies must show proof of obtained consent through keeping logs.

The Belgian DPA has also given guidance on the lifespan of cookies. Cookies should not have unlimited lifespans, but rather follow basic data protection rules: once a cookie is no longer necessary for the purpose or it has fulfilled its determined purpose, it needs to be removed. If the cookie cannot be deleted from the controller’s side, it is important to give the users the information on how to do it themselves.

Overall, the Belgian DPA’s guidance has given controllers a clear way to maneuvering their cookie usage, and has provided a new list of FAQs in case of further questions. In this regard, the Belgian DPA has made sure that cookies and their use are easy to comprehend and handle, hopefully helping data protection compliance within the subject.

Belgian DPA releases Direct Marketing Recommendation

4. March 2020

On February 10, 2020, Belgium’s Data Protection Authority (the Belgian DPA) has released their first recommendation of 2020 in relation to data processing activities for direct marketing purposes.

In the recommendation the Belgian DPA addressed issues and action proposals in regards to the handling of direct marketing and the personal data which is used in the process. It emphasized the importance of direct marketing subjects in the upcoming years, and stated that the DPA will have a special priority in regards to issues on the matter.

In particular, the recommendation elaborates on the following points, in order to help controllers navigate through the different processes:

  • The processing purposes must be specific and detailed. A simple mention of “marketing purposes” is not deemed sufficient in light of Art. 13 GDPR.
  • It is important to guarantee data minimization, as the profiling that accompanies direct marketing purposes calls for a careful handling of personal data.
  • The right to object does not only affect the direct marketing activities, but also the profiling which takes places through them. Furthermore, a simple “Unsubscribe” button at the end of a marketing E-Mail is not sufficient to withdraw consent, it is rather recommended to give the data subject the opportunity to a granular selection of which direct marketing activities they object to.
  • Consent cannot be given singularly for all channels of direct marketing. A declaration for each channel has to be obtained to ensure specification towards content and means used for direct marketing.

The Belgian DPA also stated that there are direct marketing activities which require special attention in the future, namely purchasing, renting and enriching personal data, e.g. via data brokers. In such cases, it is necessary to directly provide appropriate information to the data subject in regards to the handling of their data.

Further topics have been brought forth in the recommendation, which overall represents a thorough proposal on the handling of direct marketing activities for controller entities.

Belgian DPA announces GDPR fine

7. October 2019

The Belgian data protection authority (Gegevensbeschermingsautoriteit) has recently imposed a fine of €10,000 for violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The case concerns a Belgian shop that provided the data subject with only one opportunity to get a customer card, namely the  electronic identity card (eID). The eID is a national identification card, which contains several information about the cardholder, so the authority considers that the use of this information without the valid consent of the customer is disproportionate to the service offered.

The Authority had learnt of the case following a complaint from a customer. He was denied a customer card because he did not want to provide his electronic identity card. Instead, he had offered the shop to send his data in writing.

According to the Belgian data protection authority, this action violates the GDPR in several respects. On the one hand, the principle of data minimisation is not respected. This requires that the duration and the quantity of the processed data are limited by the controller to the extent absolutely necessary for the pursued purpose.

In order to create the customer card, the controller has access to all the data stored on the eID, including name, address, a photograph and the barcode associated with the national registration number. The Authority therefore believes that the use of all eID data is disproportionate to the creation of a customer card.

The DPA also considers that there is no valid consent as a legal basis. According to the GDPR, the consent must be freely given, specific and informed. However, there is no voluntary consent in this case, since no other alternative is offered to the customer. If a customer refuses to use his electronic ID card, he will not receive a customer card and will therefore not be able to benefit from the shops’ discounts and advantages.

In view of these violations, the authority has imposed a fine of €10,000.

Category: Belgian DPA · Belgium · GDPR · General
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Belgian DPA imposes first fine since GDPR

11. June 2019

On 28 May 2019, the Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) imposed the first fine since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. The Belgian DPA fined a Belgian mayor 2.000 EUR for abusing use of personal data.

The Belgian DPA received a complaint from the data subjects alleging that their personal data collected for local administrative purposes had been further used by the mayor for election campaign purposes. The parties were then heard by the Litigation Chamber of the Belgian DPA. Finally, the Belgian DPA ruled that the mayor’s use of the plaintiff’s personal data violated the purpose limitation principle of the GDPR, since the personal data was originally collected for a different purpose and was incompatible with the purpose for which the mayor used the data.

In deciding on the amount of the fine, the Belgian DPA took into account the limited number of data subjects, the nature, gravity and duration of the infringement, resulting in a moderate sum of 2.000 EUR. Nevertheless, the decision conveys the message that compliance with the GDPR is the responsibility of each data controller, including public officials.

How to be prepared for the GPDR in 13 Steps

26. September 2016

Last week, the Belgian Data Protection Authority “Privacy Commission”, published Guidelines containing 13 Steps that will help organizations in order to prepare for the EU General Data Protection Regulation. The Guidelines were published in French and in Dutch.

The Belgian Data Protection Authority recommended to follow the steps shown below in order to be compliant with the GDPR:

  • Awareness: Instruct the relevant persons about the upcoming changes.
  • Internal Records: Document the stored data, where it came from and to whom it is transfered.
  • Privacy Notice: Review and update the Privacy Notice.
  • Individuals’ Rights: Check existing procedures in order to comply with individuals’ rights.
  • Access Requests: Review current procedures about access requests. Consider how these requests will be handled in accordance with the new GDPR time limits.
  • Legal Basis: Document all data processing procedures. Demonstrate the respective legal basis for each data processing procedure.
  • Consent: Review how consent is collected and recorded.
  • Children’s Personal Data: Plan procedures in order to verify the ages of individuals. Determine how to gather parental or legal guardian consent for processing procedures that involve children’s data.
  • Data Breach: Guarantee that procedures are implemented on how to handle data breaches.
  • Data Protection by Design and Data Protection Impact Assessments: Check these concepts. Consider how to implement them.
  • Data Protection Officer: Appoint and review the Data Protection Officer.
  • International: Check which Data Protection Authority will be responsible for you.
  • Existing Contracts: Review the current contracts.

Belgian DPA against Facebook for tracking of non-users

30. June 2016

The Belgian DPA sued Facebook about a year ago for tracking the online activities of non-users who visit the Facebook´s sites in Belgium without their consent.

In the first instance, the Court ruled that Facebook should stop tracking non-users without their consent or to face a fine of 250,000 euros per day. Facebook appealed this sentence to the Brussels Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has now stated that the Belgian DPA has no jurisdiction over Facebook Inc. The Belgian DPA will appeal to the Court of Cassation, which cannot deliver new sentences but throw out previous judgements.

In the meanwhile, Facebook has confirmed that it will not track non-users without their consent when they visit Facebook sites or click the “like” button.

Moreover, Facebook stated that only the Irish DPA has jurisdiction regarding data protection issues that involve Facebook´s use of EU citizens’ personal data, as this is where the European Headquarters are located.

After the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Belgian DPA said that the decision “simply and purely means that the Belgian citizen cannot obtain the protection of his private life through the courts and tribunals when it concerns foreign actors”.