Category: Countries

Transatlantic Data Transfers in light of the Two Year Anniversary of GDPR Application

7. July 2020

In the last two years since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, it has received an overall positive feedback and structured the data protection culture not only in the European Union, but has set an example for international privacy standards.

However, especially from the American side of the world, criticism has been constant. Different principles are a prerequisite for different opinions and priorities, and the effort to bring European data protection standards and American personal data business together has been a challenge on both sides.

One of the main criticisms coming from the US government is the increasing obstacles the GDPR poses in case of cybercrime investigations and law enforcement. Not only the restrictive implications of the GDPR are an issue, but also the divergent interpretations due to national adaptations of the GDPR are seen as a problem by government officials.

In the cases of cybercrime, the main issue for the US critics is the now less effective database of domain name owners, WHOIS. The online directory, which was created in the 1970s, is an important tool for law enforcement combatting cybercrime. Before the GDPR came into effect in 2018, the request for information on domain owners was straightforward. Now, due to the restrictions of the GDPR, this process has been made long and tedious.

But fighting cybercrime is not the only tension between the EU and the USA concerning data protection. In a judgement in the Schrems II case, expected for July 16, 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to take a stance on transatlantic data transfers and the current Privacy Shield, which is the basis for the EU-US dataflows under adequate data protection standards. If the Privacy Shield is deemed insufficient protection, it will have a major effect on EU-US business transactions.

However, these are issues that the European Commission (EC) is very aware of. In their communication concerning the two-year review of the GDPR, the Commission stated that they are planning to balance out diverging and fragmented interpretations of the GDPR on national levels and find a common data protection culture within Europe.

In addition, the restrictions the GDPR poses to law enforcement are another point the European Commission knows it needs to fix. The plan for the future is a bilateral and multilateral framework that can allow for simple requests to share data for law enforcement purposes and avoid conflicts of law, while keeping data protection safeguards intact.

The upcoming judgement of the ECJ is seen with watchful eyes by the Commission, and will be incorporated in their upcoming adequacy decisions and re-evaluations, as well as their development of a modern international transfer toolbox, which includes a modernized version of the standard contractual clauses.

Overall, the two-year mark of the existence of the GDPR is seen more as a success, despite the clear areas for future improvement. One of the big challenges in transatlantic data transfers ahead is without a doubt the outcome of the judgement in the Schrems case in mid-July, the implications of which are, at this point in time, not yet able to be defined.

Contact Tracing Apps: U.K. Update and EDPB Interoperability Statement

23. June 2020

In another update about contact tracing apps, we are going to talk about the new path of contact tracing in the United Kingdom (UK), as well as the European Data Protection Board’s (EDPB) statement in regards to the cross-border interoperability of the contact tracing apps being deployed in the European Union.

UK Contact Tracing App Update

Since starting the field tests on the NHS COVID-19 App on the Isle of Wight, the UK government has decided to change their approach towards the contact tracing model. It has been decided to abandon the centralized app model in favour of the decentralized Google/Apple alternative.

The change was brought on by technical issues and privacy challenges which surfaced during the trial period on the Isle of Wight, and in the end were direct consequences of the centralized model and important enough to motivate the change of approach.

The technical problems included issues with the background Bluetooth access, as well as operation problems in the light of cross-border interoperability. Further, the data protection risks of mission creep and a lack of transparency only urged on the of the app.

The new model is widely used throughout the European Union, and provides more data protection as well as better technical support. The only deficit in comparison with the centralized model is the lesser access to data by epidemiologists, which seems to be a trade off that the UK government is willing to take for the increase in data protection and technical compatibility.

EDPB statement on cross-border interoperability

On June 17th, 2020, the EDPB has released a statement with regards to the cross-border interoperability of contact tracing apps. The statement builds on the EDPB Guideline from 04/2020 with regards to data protection aspects of contact tracing apps, emphasising the importance of the issues presented.

The statement stems from an agreement between EU-Member states and the European Commission formed in May 2020 with regards to the basic guidelines for cross-border interoperability of contact tracing apps, as well as the newly settled technical specs for the achievement of such an interoperability.

The EDPB states key aspects that have to be kept in mind during the entirety of the project, namely transparency, legal basis, controllership, data subject’s rights, as well as data retention and minimisation rules.

Further, the statement emphasises that the sharing of data about individuals which have been diagnosed or tested positively should only be triggered by a voluntary action of the users themselves. In the end, the goal of interoperability should not be used as an argument to extend the collection of personal data further than necessary.

Overall, this type of sharing of personal data can pose an increased data protection risk to the personal data of the users, which is why it needs to be made sure that the principles set down by the GDPR are being upheld, and made sure that there is no less intrusive method to be used in the matter.

EDPB shares concerns over UK-US data deal in light of future UK adequacy decision

18. June 2020

On June 17th, 2020, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has written an open letter to the Members of the European Parliament over its concerns regarding the Agreement between the United Kingdom (UK) and the USA on Access to Electronic Data for the Purpose of Countering Serious Crime in relation to a future UK adequacy decision after the country’s exit out of the European Union.

In its letter, the EDPB states that it is concerned with the applicability of the safeguards in the Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU once the UK leaves the Union at the beginning of 2021. The Agreement between the UK and the US allows for easy data access in the case of the prosecution of serious crimes, and facilitates an access request to be made to UK authorities and businesses under the US Cloud Act, for which it is unsure if the safeguards agreed upon between the EU and the UK apply.

The EDPB also stresses that, in the light of a potential data sharing agreement between the EU and the US, it is mandatory that the European safeguards in such an agreement “must prevail over US domestic laws” in order to be “fully compatible with European laws”.

Furthermore, the letter also states that “it is also essential that the safeguards include a mandatory prior judicial authorisation as an essential guarantee for access to metadata and content data”. In its preliminary assessment, the EDPB could not distinguish such a provision in the UK-US Agreement.

While right now the EDPB can only make a preliminary assessment of the situation based on the current elements at its disposal, it states clearly that the Agreement between the UK and the US will have to be considered in any relevant adequacy decision in the future. This is especially important as there is a “requirement to ensure continuity of protection in cases of onwards transfers from the UK to another third country”.

In any case, the EDPB intends to release its own opinion on the matter if the European Commission should release a draft of the adequacy decision for the UK.

USA: Multi-Billion Dollar Class Action lawsuit against Google

4. June 2020

Google users in the USA accuse Google of tracking their surfing behaviour even though they use the incognito mode. The complaint was filed with the federal court in San Jose, California on Tuesday, June 2nd 2020.

Background of the lawsuit is the accusation of three Google users that “Google tracks and collects users’ browsing history and other information about web activity, regardless of what measures they take to protect it”. In other words, users accuse Google of tracking their behaviour through Google Analytics, plug-ins or apps, evaluating it and using it for advertising – despite using the incognito mode.

The complaint is based on a violation of US wiretapping laws and California Privacy laws. Each plaintiff is claiming $5,000.00 in damages. Since the three plaintiffs allegedly represent thousands more plaintiffs the volume of the lawsuit could run into billions.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda denies the allegations, citing that by opening an incognito tab on Chrome, it is indicated that websites may continue to collect information about surfing behavior. The incognito mode is about the browser and the device used not storing this data. He announced that Google would take action against the accusations.

Series on COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps Part 3: Data Protection Issues

28. May 2020

In today’s blogpost, we will finish the miniseries on COVID-19 contact tracing apps with a final part on the issues that are created by them with regards to data protection and users’ privacy. As we have presented in the first part of this series, different approaches to contact tracing apps are in use or are being developed in different countries. These different operating approaches have different data protection issues, some of which can, in the European Union, be mitigated by following data protection regulations and the guidelines the European Data Protection Board has published, which we presented in the second part of this series.

The arising data protection issues that come with COVID-19 contact tracing apps and their impact highly depend on the API design of the apps used. However, there are common points which can cause privacy problems that may apply to all contact tracing apps due to the sensitivity of the data processed.

The biggest risks of contact tracing apps

While contact tracing apps have the potential to pose risks to data protection and their users’ privacy in all terms of data protection aspects, the following are the risks politicians, scientists and users are most worried about:

  • The risk of loss of trust
  • The risk of unauthorized access
  • The risk of processing too much data
  • The risk of abuse of the personal data collected

The risk of loss of trust: In order to work properly and reach the effectiveness necessary to contain the spread of the virus and break the chain of transmission, scientists and researches have pinpointed that at least 60% of a country’s population has to use the contact tracing apps properly. But for this to be able to happen, user satisfaction and trust in the app and its use of their personal data have to remain high. A lot of the research done on the issue shares the concern that lack of transparency in the development of the apps as well as in regard to the data they collect and process might cause the population to be sceptical and distrustful to the technologies being developed. The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) as well as the European Parliament have stated that in order for contact tracing apps to be data protection compliant, their development as well as processing of data need to be transparent throughout the entirety of the use of the apps.

The risk of unauthorized access: While the risk that the apps and the data they process can be hacked is relatively low, there is the concern that in some cases unauthorized access may result in a big privacy issue. Especially in contact tracing apps that use GPS location data as well as apps that use a centralized approach to the storage of the data processed, the risks of unauthorized access is higher due to the information being readily available. In the case of GPS data, it is easily possible to track users’ movements, allowing for a very detailed potential to analyse their behaviour. The centralized storage stores all the collected data in one cloud space, which in the case of a hacking incident may result in easy access to not only information about social behaviour and health details, but also, if used in conjunction with GPS tracking data, an easy to identify user behaviour analysis. Therefore, it has been recommended to conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment before launching the apps, and ensure that the encryption standards are high. The Bluetooth method of phones pinging each other anonymized IDs that change every 15 minutes in case of contact closer than 10 feet has been recommended as the ideal technology to minimize location data being collected. Furthermore, most scientists and researchers recommend that in order to prevent damage, a decentralized storage method is better suited to protect the data of the users, as this method only stores the information on the users’ device instead of a central cloud.

The risk of processing too much data: In the case of contact tracing apps, one of the big risks is the processing of too much data. This is an issue which can apply to apps using GPS location tracking, the necessity to collect sensitive health data other than the COVID-19 infection status, transactional information, contacts, etc. In general, contact tracing apps should not require much additional information except the user’s contact information, since it is only necessary to log the other devices their device has come in contact with. However, there are some countries that use contact tracing apps through GPS location tracking instead of Bluetooth exchange of IDs, in which case the location data and movements of the user are automatically recorded. Other countries, like for example India, have launched an app where additional health data is being processed, as well as other information unnecessary to follow up on the contact tracing. Contact tracing apps should follow the concept of minimization of data collection in order to ensure that only personal data necessary to the purpose of the contact tracing apps are being processed. That is also one of the important ground rules the EDPB has portrayed in their guideline on the subject. However, different countries have different data protection laws, which makes a unified approach and handling of personal data difficult in cases like these.

The risk of abuse of the personal data collected: One of the biggest fears of scientists and users regarding contact tracing apps is the potential risk of abuse of the personal data collected once the pandemic is over. Especially with the centralized storage, even now there are apps that give access to the data to the government, like in India, Hong Kong and Singapore. A majority of critics is demanding regulation which will ensure that the data cannot be used after the pandemic is over and the need for the apps has ceased. This is a specifically high risk in the case of tracing apps that locate the user through GPS location tracking rather than through Bluetooth technology, since the movements of the devices lead to a very detailed and easy to analyse movement tracking of the users. This potential risk is one the most prominent ones regarding the Apple and Google project for a joint contact tracing API, as both companies have been known to face severe data protection issues in the past. However, both companies have stated that they plan on completely discontinuing the developed API once the pandemic is over, which would disable the apps working with that API. Since the Bluetooth approach they are using stores the data on users’ devices, the data will be locked and inaccessible once the API cannot read it anymore. But there are still a lot of other countries with their own APIs and apps, which may lead to a risk of government surveillance and even abuse by foreign powers. For Europe, the EDPB and the European Parliament have clearly stated that the data must be deleted and the apps dismantled after they are no longer necessary, as the purpose and legal basis for processing will not apply anymore once the pandemic is under control.

The bottom line

Needless to say, the pandemic has driven the need for new technologies and approaches to handle the spread of viruses. However, in a modern world this brings risks to the personal data used to contain the pandemic and break the chain of transmission, especially due to the fact that it is not only a nationwide, but also an international effort. It is important for users to keep in mind that their right to privacy is not entirely overpowered by the public interest to contain the virus. However, in order to keep the balance, it is important for the contact tracing apps to face criticism and be developed in a way that is compliant with data protection regulations in order to minimize the potential risks that come with the new technology. It is the only way to ensure that the people’s personal freedom and private life can continue without having to take high toll from the potential attacks that could result from these risks. Transparency is the bottom line in these projects, and it can ensure that regulations are being met and the people’s trust is kept in order to be able to reach the effectiveness needed for the tracing apps to be successful in their purpose.

easyJet Data Breach: 9 million customers affected

22. May 2020

The British airline ‘easyJet’ has been hacked. The hackers have been able to access personal data of approximately 9 million customers.

easyJet published a statement on the hacker attack and announced that e-mail addresses and travel details were among the concerned personal data of customers. Which personal data in detail belong to ‘travel data’ was not disclosed. In some cases, the hackers could also access credit card data. easyJet stated that there is no proof, that the accessed personal data was abused. easyjet now warns about fake mails in his name as well as in the name of ‘easyJet Holidays’.

The hack was noticed by easyJet in January, but was only made public this week. With becoming aware of the attack, easyJet took several measures and has blocked the unauthorized access in the meantime. easyJet is also in contact with the British Data Protection Authority ‘ICO’ and the National Security Center.

At this time, easyJet has not yet been able to evaluate how the attack could have occurred, but easyJet explained, that the hacker attack was no ‘general’ hacker attack, since the attack was very sophisticated compared to other hacker attacks. It is suspected that the attack originated from a group that has already hacked other airlines, such as British Airways in 2018.

easyJet announced that they will get in contact with concerned data subjects until May 26th to inform those about the breach and to explain further measures which should be taken in order to decrease the risk. easyJet customers who will not receive a statement until then are not concerned by the breach.

In connection with hacker attacks like these the risk for phishing attacks is the highest. In phishing attacks, criminals use fake e-mails, for example on behalf of well-known companies or authorities, to try to persuade users to pass on personal data or to click on prepared e-mail attachments containing malware.

Zoom agrees on security and privacy measures with NY Attorney General

13. May 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has seen an exponential surge in new users over the past two months. As we have mentioned in a previous blog post, this increase in activity highlighted a range of different issues and concerns both on the security and on the privacy side of the teleconference platform.

In light of these issues, which induced a wave of caution around the use of Zoom by a lot of companies, schools, religious institutions and governmental departments, urging to stop the use of the platform, Zoom has agreed to enhance security measures and privacy standards.

In the Agreement struck on May 7th with the New York Attorney General Laetitia James, Zoom has come to terms over several new measures it will enforce over the course of the next weeks. However, most of these enhancements have already been planned in the CEO Yang’s “90-day plan” published on April 1st, and have been slowly put into effect.

These measures include:

  • a new data security program,
  • conduction of risk assessment reviews,
  • enhancement of encryption protocols,
  • a default password for every meeting,
  • halt to sharing user data with Facebook.

In response to the Agreement being struck, Attorney General James stated: “Our lives have inexorably changed over the past two months, and while Zoom has provided an invaluable service, it unacceptably did so without critical security protections. This agreement puts protections in place so that Zoom users have control over their privacy and security, and so that workplaces, schools, religious institutions, and consumers don’t have to worry while participating in a video call.“

A day prior, Zoom was also reinstated for the use of online classes by the New York City Department of Education. In order to ensure the privacy of the students and counteract “Zoombombing”, Zoom has agreed to enhanced privacy controls for free accounts, as well as kindergarten through 12th grade education accounts. Hosts, even those with free accounts, will, by default, be able to control access to their video conferences by requiring a password or the placement of users in a digital waiting room before a meeting can be accessed.

This is not the only new addition to the controls that hosts will be able to access: they will also be able to control access to private messages in a Zoom chat, control access to email domains in a Zoom directory, decide who can share screens, and more.

Overall, Zoom stated that it was happy to have been able to reach a resolution with the Attorney General quickly. It remains to see how the measures in is implementing will hold up to the still growing audience, and how fast they can be implemented for worldwide use.

EDPS publishes opinion on future EU-UK partnership

3. March 2020

On 24 February 2020, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published an opinion on the opening of negotiations for the future partnership between the EU and the UK with regards to personal data protection.

In his opinion, the EDPS points out the importance of commitments to fully respect fundamental rights in the future envisaged comprehensive partnership. Especially with regards to the protection of personal data, the partnership shall uphold the high protection level of the EU’s personal data rules.

With respect to the transfer of personal data, the EDPS further expresses support for the EU Commission’s recommendation to work towards the adoption of adequacy decisions for the UK if the relevant conditions are met. However, the Commission must ensure that the UK is not lowering its data protection standard below the EU standard after the Brexit transition period. Lastly, the EDPS recommends the EU Institutions to also prepare for a potential scenario in which no adequacy decisions exist by the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

US Lawmakers to introduce bill that restricts Government Surveillance

3. February 2020

On Thursday January 23rd a bipartisan group of US lawmakers have revealed a legislation which would reduce the scope of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) warrantless internet and telephone surveillance program.

The bill aims to reform section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which is expiring on March 15, and prevent abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under the PATRIOT Act, the NSA can create a secret mass surveillance that taps into the internet data and telephone records of American residents. Further, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows for U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on and store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States, with American citizens often caught in the cross hairs.

The newly introduced bill is supposed to host a lot of reforms such as prohibiting the warrantless collection of cell site location, GPS information, browsing history and internet search history, ending the authority for the NSA’s massive phone record program which was disclosed by Edward Snowden, establishing a three-year limitation on retention of information that is not foreign intelligence or evidence of a crime, and more.

This new legislation is seen favorably by national civil rights groups and Democrats, who hope the bill will stop the continuous infringement to the fourth Amendment of the American Constitution in the name of national security.

UK: Betting companies had access to millions of data of children

28. January 2020

In the UK, betting companies have gained access to data from 28 million children under 14 and adolescents. The data was stored in a government database and could be used for learning purposes. Access to the platform is granted by the government. A company that was given access is said to have illegally given it to another company, which in turn allowed access for the betting companies. The betting providers used the access, among other things, to check age information online. The company accused of passing on the access denies the allegations, but has not yet made any more specific statements.

The British Department for Education speaks of an unacceptable situation. All access points have been closed and the cooperation has been terminated.

Category: Data breach · General · UK
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