Category: USA

Microsoft reacts on EDPB’s data transfer recommendations

24. November 2020

Microsoft (“MS”) is among the first companies to react to the European Data Protection Board’s data transfer recommendations(our article), as the tech giant announced in a blog post on November 19th. MS calls these additional safeguards “Defending Your Data” and will immediately start implementing them to contracts with public sector and enterprise customers.

In light of the Schrems II ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) on November 17th (our article), the EDPB issued recommendations, on how to transfer data into non-EEA countries in accordance with the GDPR. The recommendations lay out a six-step plan on how to assess whether a data transfer is up to GDPR standards or not. These steps include mapping all data transfer, assessing a third countries legislation, assessing the tool used for transferring data and adding supplementary measures to that tool. Among the latter is a list of technical, organizational, and contractual measures to be implemented to ensure the effectiveness of the tool.

Julie Brill, Corporate Vice President for Global Privacy and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Privacy Officer at Microsoft, issued the statement in which she declares MS to be the first company responding to the EDPB’s guidance. These safeguards include an obligation for MS to challenge all government requests for public sector or enterprise customer data, where it has a lawful basis for doing so; to try and redirect data requests; and to notify the customer promptly if legally allowed, about any data request by an authority, concerning that customer. This was one of the main ETDB recommendations and also included in a draft for new Standard Contractual Clauses published by the European Commission on November 12th. MS announces to monetary compensate customers, whose personal data has to be disclosed in response to government requests.  These changes are additions to the SCC’s MS is using ever since Schrems II. Which include (as MS states) data encrypted to a high standard during transition and storage, transparency regarding government access requests to data (“U.S. National Security Orders Report” dating back to 2011; “Law Enforcement Requests Report“) .

Recently European authorities have been criticizing MS and especially its Microsoft 365 (“MS 365”) (formerly Office 365) tools for not being GDPR compliant. In July 2019 the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands issued a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA), warning authorities not to use Office 365 ProPlus, Windows 10 Enterprise, as well as Office Online and Mobile, since they do not comply with GDPR standards. The European Data Protection Supervisor issued a warning in July 2020 stating, the use of MS 365 by EU authorities and contracts between EU institutions and MS do not comply with the GDPR. Also, the German Data Security Congress (“GDSC”) issued a statement in October, in which it declared MS 365 as not being compliant with the GDPR. The GDSC is a board made up of the regional data security authorities of each 16 states and the national data security authority. This declaration was reached by a narrow vote of 9 to 8. Some of the 8 regional authorities later even issued a press release explaining why they voted against the declaration. They criticized a missing involvement and hearing of MS during the process, the GDSC’s use of MS’ Online Service Terms and Data Processing Addendum dating back to January 2020 and the declaration for being too undifferentiated.

Some of the German data protection authorities opposing the GDSC’s statement were quick in welcoming the new developments in a joint press release. Although they stress the main issues in data transfer from the EU to the U.S. still were not solved. Especially the CJEU main reserves regarding the mass monitoring of data streams by U.S. intelligence agencies (such as the NSA) are hard to prevent and make up for. Still, they announced the GDSC would resume its talks with MS before the end of 2020.

This quick reaction to the EDPB recommendations should bring some ease into the discussion surrounding MS’ GDPR compliance. It will most likely help MS case, especially with the German authorities and might even lead to a prompt resolution in a conflict regarding tools that are omnipresent at workplaces all over the globe.

 

California Voters approve new Privacy Legislation CPRA

20. November 2020

On 3 November 2020, Californian citizens were able to vote on the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (“CPRA”) in a state ballot (we reported). As polls leading up to the vote already suggested, California voters approved the new Privacy legislation, also known as “Prop 24”. The CPRA was passed with 56.2% of Yes Votes to 43.8% of No Votes. Most provisions of the CPRA will enter into force on 1 January 2021 and will become applicable to businesses on 1 January 2023. It will, at large, only apply to information collected from 1 January 2022.

The CPRA will complement and expand privacy rights of California citizens considerably. Among others, the amendments will include:

  • Broadening the term “sale” of personal information to “sale or share” of private information,
  • Adding new requirements to qualify as a “service provider” and defining the term “contractor” anew,
  • Defining the term “consent”,
  • Introducing the category of “Sensitive Information”, including a consumer’s Right to limit the use of “Sensitive Information”,
  • Introducing the concept of “Profiling” and granting consumers the Right to Opt-out of the use of the personal information for Automated Decision-Making,
  • Granting consumers the Right to correct inaccurate information,
  • Granting consumers the Right to Data Portability, and
  • Establishing the California Privacy Protection Agency (CalPPA) with a broad scope of responsibilities and enforcement powers.

Ensuring compliance with the CPRA will require proper preparation. Affected businesses will have to review existing processes or implement new processes in order to guarantee the newly added consumer rights, meet the contractual requirements with service providers/contractors, and show compliance with the new legislation as a whole.

In an interview after the passage of the CPRA, the initiator of the CCPA and the CPRA Alastair Mactaggard commented that

Privacy legislation is here to stay.

He hopes that California Privacy legislation will be a model for other states or even the U.S. Congress to follow, in order to offer consumers in other parts of the country the same Privacy rights as there are in California now.

The CCPA is not enough: Californians will vote on the CPRA

28. October 2020

On 3 November 2020, the day of the US Presidential Election, Californian citizens will also be able to vote on the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (“CPRA”) in a state ballot. The CPRA shall expand Califonian consumers’ privacy rights given by the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”) which only came into effect on 2 January 2020.

The NGO “Californians for Consumer Privacy”, led by privacy activist Alastair Mactaggart, initiated the upcoming state ballot on the CPRA. Mactaggart’s NGO already qualified for a state ballot on the adoption of the CCPA by collecting over 629,000 signatures of California citizens in 2018. However, the NGO dropped the proposal in 2018 after California state legislators persuaded the intitiators that they will pass the CCPA through the legislative process. But because several significant amendments to the original proposal were passed during the legislative process, the NGO created the new CPRA initiative in 2020. This time, the group submitted more than 900,000 signatures. The CPRA is supposed to expand on the provisions of the CCPA. In case the CPRA is approved by California voters on November 3rd, it could not be easily amended and would require further direct voter action. Most provisions of the CPRA would become effective on 1 January 2023 and would only apply to information collected from 1 January 2022.

Some of the key provisions of the newly proposed CPRA seem to draw inspiration from the provisions of the European General Data Protection Regulations (“GDPR”) and include the establishment of an enforcement agency (the “California Privacy Protections Agency”), explicitly protecting “Sensitive Personal Information” of consumers and granting the right to rectify inaccurate personal information. The CPRA would furthermore require businesses to abide to information obligations comparable to those required by Art. 12-14 GDPR.

As the day of the state ballot is fast approaching, recent polls suggest that the CPRA will likely pass and complement the already existing CCPA, forming the US’ strictest privacy rules to date.

Privacy Activist Schrems unleashes 101 Complaints

21. September 2020

Lawyer and privacy activist Maximilian Schrems has become known for his legal actions leading to the invalidation of “Safe Harbor” in 2015 and of the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield” this year (we reported). Following the landmark court decision on the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”, Schrems recently announced on the website of his NGO “noyb” (non-of-your-business) that he has filed 101 complaints against 101 European companies in 30 different EU and EEA countries with the responsible Data Protection Authorities. Schrems exercised the right to lodge a complaint with the supervisory authority that every data subject has if he or she considers that the processing of personal data relating to him or her infringes the Regulation, pursuant to Art. 77 GDPR.

The complaints concern the companies’ continued use of Google Analytics and Facebook Connect that transfer personal data about each website visitor (at least IP-address and Cookie data) to Google and Facebook which reside in the United States and fall under U.S. surveillance laws, such as FISA 702. Schrems also published a list of the 101 companies which include Sky Deutschland, the University of Luxembourg and the Cyprus Football Association. With his symbolic action against 101 companies, Schrems wanted to point to the widespread inactivity among many companies that still do not take the data protection rights of individuals seriously despite the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In response, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) has set up a “task force” to handle complaints against European companies using Google Analytics and Facebook services. The taskforce shall analyse the matter and ensure a close cooperation among the members of the Board which consists of all European supervisory authorities as well as the European Data Protection Supervisor.

U.S. Commerce Department publishes FAQs on EU-US Privacy Shield

12. August 2020

The U.S. Commerce Department has released a frequently asked questions page (FAQ) with regards to the EU-US Privacy Shield, following the latest decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the Schrems II case.

The FAQ consists of five questions which revolve around the situation after the invalidation of the Privacy Shield by the CJEU, especially the status of companies already certified under the Privacy Shield.

The Commerce Department states in its FAQ that despite the invalidity of the Privacy Shield certification as a GDPR compliant transfer mechanism, the decision of the CJEU does not relieve companies certified under the Privacy Shield from their obligations. On July 21, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated that they expect controllers to continue to follow the obligations laid out under the Privacy Shield Framework for transfers.

Further, the Commerce Department will continue to administer certification and re-certification under the Privacy Shield despite the new development. The Commerce Department emphasizes that the continued dedication to the Privacy Shield will show the commitment of the parties and the controllers certified under it to the Data Protection cause.

However, the Commerce Department also notes that the costs coming along with a Privacy Shield certification will remain, which could have an effect on the motivation for companies to get self- and re-certified.

CJEU judges the EU-US Privacy Shield invalid

16. July 2020

On June 16th, 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has declared the invalidity of Decision 2016/1250, therefore rendering protection granted to data transfers under the EU-US Privacy Shield inadequate.

The background

The case originated in a complaint of Mr. Max Schrems against Facebook Ireland regarding the transfer of his personal data as a Facebook user to Facebook Inc., situated in the USA, for further processing. Mr. Schrems lodged a complaint with the Irish supervisory authority seeking to prohibit those transfers. He claimed that the law and practices in the United States do not offer sufficient protection against access by the public authorities to the data transferred to the USA. That complaint was rejected on the ground that, in Decision 2000/5205, the Safe Harbour Decision, the Commission had found that the United States ensured an adequate level of protection. In a judgment delivered on October 6th, 2015, the CJEU, to which the High Court of Ireland had referred questions for a preliminary ruling, declared that decision invalid, resulting in the Schrems I judgment.

Today’s judgement in the Schrems II case came from the request of the Irish High Court to Mr. Schrems to reformulate his initial complaint, seeing as the Safe Harbour Agreement had been deemed inadequate. In the following, Mr. Schrems reformulated his complaint, and claimed that the United States does not offer sufficient protection of data transferred to that country. He seeks the suspension of future transfers of his personal data from the EU to the United States, which Facebook Ireland now carries out pursuant to the Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) set out in the Annex to Decision 2010/87. After the initiation of those proceedings, the Commission adopted Decision 2016/1250 on the adequacy of the protection provided by the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.

In its request for a preliminary ruling, the referring court asked the CJEU whether the GDPR applies to transfers of personal data pursuant to the SCCs, what level of protection is required by the GDPR in connection with such a transfer, and what obligations are incumbent on supervisory authorities in those circumstances. The High Court of Ireland also raised the question of the validity of both decisions,  Decision 2010/87 and  Decision 2016/1250.

Judgement in regard to SCCs

In its judgements, the CJEU has stated that it had, after examination of the SCCs in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, found nothing that affected the validity of the SCCs and Decision 2010/87.

With regards to the transfer of personal data to third countries, the CJEU claims that the requirements for such purposes set out by the GDPR concerning appropriate safeguards, enforceable rights and effective legal measures must be interpreted in such a way that data subjects whose personal data is transferred into a third country must be afforded a level of protection essentially similar to the level of protection granted within the European Union by the GDPR.

Data Protection Authorities must, unless an adequacy decision has been ruled by the Commission, be required to suspend or prohibit a transfer of personal data to a third country which does not meet these requirements.

The CJEU holds that the SCCs are still effective mechanisms that make it possible to ensure compliance with a level of protection required by the European Union. In that regard the CJEU points out that this imposes an obligation on the data exporter and the recipient of the data to verify, prior to any transfer, whether that level of protection is respected in the third country concerned, and to suspend the transfer of the personal data if it is not.

Judgement in regard to the EU-US Privacy Shield

The CJEU, after thorough examination, concluded that the EU-US Privacy Shield is not adequate protection for transfers to the USA.

This result comes from the fact that the far-reaching US surveillance laws are in conflict with EU fundamental rights. The USA limits most of its protections of personal data from governmental surveillance to US citizen, but does not extend that protection to the personal data of citizens of other countries.

In essence, the limitations on the protection of personal data arising from the domestic law of the USA on the access and use by US public authorities of such data transferred from the European Union are not restricted in a way that satisfies requirements that are equivalent to those required under EU law, which were mentioned in regards to SCCs above. By the principle of proportionality, the surveillance programmes based on those provisions are not limited to what is strictly necessary.

Unless an empowerment and independence of the Ombudsperson takes place, which would give the competence to adopt decisions which are binding on US intelligence services, there are no substantial cause of actions for data subjects before a body which gives legal guarantees in the way that is required by European law for transfers to be equivalent in protection.

Assessment

Overall, the CJEU states that necessary data transfers are still able to continue under Article 49 of the GDPR. However, the provision’s interpretation is restrictive, leaving most companies with data transfers to the USA which are now considered illegal.

Due to the requirements of adequate protection even when relying on the validated SCCs, transfers under such circumstances may also be found unlawful due to the local intelligence laws in the USA, which do not uphold the requirements necessary by European law.

Overall, it is a clear statement of the necessity of reforms of the US intelligence laws, which have to create adequate protections to be able to guarantee the same level of data protection as the European Union, if they want to continue data trades and data transfers necessary for processing.

What does this mean for you?

  • If your business has a EU-US Privacy Shield certification, and uses such for legitimization of data transfers within a group of companies, you should push towards the use of the European Standard Contractual Clauses within that corporate group.
  • If you are employing service providers which rely on the EU-US Privacy Shield certification, you should also push for the use of Standard Contractual Clauses, or base the data transfer on a different solution for an adequate level of data protection.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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