Category: USA

European Commission releases third annual Privacy Shield Review report

25. October 2019

The European Commission has released a report on the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield, which represents the third annual report on the performance of the supranational Agreement, after it came into effect in July 2016. The discussions on the review were launched on 12 September 2019 by Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová, with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in Washington, DC.

The Privacy Shield protects the fundamental rights of anyone in the European Union whose personal data is transferred to certified companies in the United States for commercial purposes and brings legal clarity for businesses relying on transatlantic data transfer. The European Commission is commited to review the Agreement on an annual basis to ensure that the level of protection certified under the Privacy Shield continues to be at an adequate level.

This year’s report validates the continuous adequacy of the protection for personal data transferred to certified companies in the U.S. from the Europan Union under the Privacy Shield. Since the Framework was implemented, about 5000 companies have registered with the Privacy Shield. The EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality stated that “the Privacy Shield has become a success story. The annual review is an important health check for its functioning“.

The improvements compared to the last annual review in 2018 include the U.S. Department of Commerce’s efforts to ensure necessary oversight in a systematic manner. This is done by monthly checks with samply companies that are certified unter the Privacy Shield. Furthermore, an increasing number of European Citizens are making use of their rights under the Framework, and the resulting response mechanisms are functioning well.

The biggest criticism the European Commission has stated came in the form of the recommendation of firm steps to ensure a better process in the (re)certification process under the Privacy Shield. The time of the (re)certification process allows companies to get recertified within three months after their certification has run out, which can lead to a lack of transparency and confusion, since those companies will still be listed in the registry. A shorter time frame has been proposed by the European Commission to guarantee a higher level of security.

Overall, the third annual review has been seen as a success in the cooperation between the two sides, and both the U.S. and the European officials agree that there is a need for strong and credible enforcement of privacy rules to protect the respective citizens and ensure trust in the digital economy.

USA and UK sign Cross Border Data Access Agreement for Criminal Electronic Data

10. October 2019

The United States and the United Kingdom have entered into the first of its kind CLOUD Act Data Access Agreement, which will allow both countries’ law enforcement authorities to demand authorized access to electronic data relating to serious crime. In both cases, the respective authorities are permitted to ask the tech companies based in the other country, for electronic data directly and without legal barriers.

At the base of this bilateral Agreement stands the U.S.A.’s Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), which came into effect in March 2018. It aims to improve procedures for U.S. and foreign investigators for obtaining electronic information held by service providers in the other country. In light of the growing number of mutual legal assistance requests for electronic data from U.S. service providers, the current process for access may take up to two years. The Data Access Agreement can reduce that time considerably by allowing for a more efficient and effective access to data needed, while protecting the privacy and civil liberties of the data subjects.

The Cloud Act focuses on updating legal frameworks to respond to the growing technology in electronic communications and service systems. It further enables the U.S. and other countries to enter into a mutual executive Agreement in order to use own legal authorities to access electronic evidence in the other respective country. An Agreement of this form can only be signed by rights-respecting countries, after it has been certified by the U.S. Attorney General to the U.S. Congress that their laws have robust substansive and procedural protections for privacy and civil liberties.

The Agreement between the U.K. and the U.S.A. further assures providers that the requested disclosures are compatible with data protection laws in both respective countries.

In addition to the Agreement with the United Kingdom, there have been talks between the United States and Australia on Monday, reporting negotiations for such an Agreement between the two countries. Other negotiations have also been held between the U.S. and the European Commission, representing the European Union, in regards to a Data Access Agreement.

Category: General · UK · USA
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CJEU rules that Right To Be Forgotten is only applicable in Europe

27. September 2019

In a landmark case on Tuesday the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that Google will not have to apply the General Data Privacy Regulation’s (GDPR) “Right to be Forgotten” to its search engines outside of the European Union. The ruling is a victory for Google in a case against a fine imposed by the french Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) in 2015 in an effort to force the company and other search engines to take down links globally.

Seeing as the internet has grown into a worldwide media net with no borders, this case is viewed as a test of wether people can demand a blanket removal of information about themselves from searches without overbearing on the principles of free speech and public interest. Around the world, it has also been perceived as a trial to see if the European Union can extend its laws beyond its own borders.

“The balance between right to privacy and protection of personal data, on the one hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world,” the court stated in its decision.The Court also expressed in the judgement that the protection of personal data is not an absolute right.

While this leads to companies not being forced to delete sensitive information on their search engines outside of the EU upon request, they must take precautions to seriously discourage internet users from going onto non-EU versions of their pages. Furthermore, companies with search engines within the EU will have to closely weigh freedom of speech against the protection of privacy, keeping the currently common case to case basis for deletion requests.

In effect, since the Right to be Forgotten had been first determined by the CJEU in 2014, Google has since received over 3,3 million deletion requests. In 45% of the cases it has complied with the delisting of links from its search engine. As it stands, even while complying with deletion requests, the delisted links within the EU search engines can still be accessed by using VPN and gaining access to non-EU search engines, circumventing the geoblocking. This is an issue to which a solution has not yet been found.

Google strives to reconcile advertising and privacy

27. August 2019

While other browser developers are critical of tracking, Google wants to introduce new standards to continue enabling personalized advertising. With the implementation of the “Privacy Sandbox” and the introduction of a new identity management system, the developer of the Chrome browser wants to bring browsers to an uniform level in processing of user data and protect the privacy of users more effectively.

The suggestions are the first steps of the privacy initiative announced by Google in May. Google has published five ideas. For example, browsers are to manage a “Privacy Budget” that gives websites limited access to user data so that users can be sorted into an advertising target group without being personally identified. Google also plans to set up central identity service providers that offer limited access to user data via an application programming interface (API) and inform users about the information they have passed on.

Measures like Apple’s, which have introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection, are not in Google’s interest, as Google generates much of its revenue from personalized advertising. In a blog post, Google also said that blocking cookies promotes non-transparent techniques such as fingerprinting. Moreover, without the ability to display personalized advertising, the future of publishers would be jeopardized. Their costs are covered by advertising. Recent studies have shown, that the financing of publishers decreases by an average of 52% if advertising loses relevance due to the removal of cookies.

Based on these ideas, the discussion among developers about the future of web browsers and how to deal with users’ privacy should now begin. Google’s long-term goal is a standardization process to which all major browser developers should adhere. So far, Google has had only limited success with similar initiatives.

Settlement of $13 Million for Google in Street View Privacy Case

30. July 2019

In an attempt to settle a long-running litigation of a class-action case started in 2010, Google agrees to pay $13 million over claims that it violated U.S. wire-tapping laws. The issue came from vehicles used for its Street View mapping Project that captured and collected personal data from private wifi networks along the way.

Street View is a feature that lets users interact with panoramic and detailed images of locations all around the world. The legal action began when several people whose data was collected sued Google after it admitted the cars photographing neighborhoods for Street View had also gathered emails, passwords and other private information from wifi networks in more than 30 countries.

While the company was quick to call this collection of data a mistake,  investigators found out that the capture of personal data was built and embedded by Google engineers in the software of the vehicles to intentionally collect personal data from accessed networks.

The new agreement would make Google to be required to destroy any collected data via Street View, agree not to use Street View to collect personal data from wifi networks without consent, and to create webpages and instructions to explain to people how to secure their wireless content.

Google had been asked to refrain from using and collecting personal data from wifi networks in an earlier settlement in 2013, which raises questions as to why it was necessary to include it in the current settlement as well.

Category: Cyber security · General · USA
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Hearing on the legal challenge of SCC and US-EU Privacy Shield before CJEU

17. July 2019

On Tuesday last week, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) held the hearing on case 311/18, commonly known as “Schrems II”, following a complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) by Maximilian Schrems about the transfer of his personal data from Facebook Ireland to Facebook in the U.S. The case deals with two consecutive questions. The initial question refers to whether U.S. law, the Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA), that consists a legal ground for national security agencies to access the personal data of citizens of the European Union (EU) violates EU data protection laws. If confirmed, this would raise the second question namely whether current legal data transfer mechanisms could be invalid (we already reported on the backgrounds).

If both, the US-EU Privacy Shield and the EU Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) as currently primeraly used transfer mechanisms, were ruled invalid, businesses would probably have to deal with a complex and diffucult scenario. As Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna, senior counsel at Future of Privacy Forum said, the hearing would have had a particularly higher impact than the first Schrems/EU-US Safe Harbor case, because this time it could affect not only data transfers from the EU to the U.S., but from the EU to all countries around the world where international data transfers are based on the SCCs.

This is what also Facebook lawyer, Paul Gallagher, argued. He told the CJEU that if SCCs were hold invalid, “the effect on trade would be immense.” He added that not all U.S. companies would be covered by FISA – that would allow them to provide the law enforcement agencies with EU personal data. In particular, Facebook could not be hold responsible for unduly handing personal data over to national security agencies, as there was no evidence of that.

Eileen Barrington, lawyer of the US government assured, of course, by referring to a “hypothetical scenario” in which the US would tap data streams from a cable in the Atlantic, it was not about “undirected” mass surveillance. But about “targeted” collection of data – a lesson that would have been learned from the Snowden revelations according to which the US wanted to regain the trust of Europeans. Only suspicious material would be filtered out using particular selectors. She also had a message for the European feeling of security: “It has been proven that there is an essential benefit to the signal intelligence of the USA – for the security of American as well as EU citizens”.

The crucial factor for the outcome of the proceedings is likely to be how valid the CJEU considers the availability of legal remedies to EU data subjects. Throughout the hearing, there were serious doubts about this. The monitoring of non-US citizens data is essentially based on a presidential directive and an executive order, i.e. government orders and not on formal laws. However, EU citizens will be none the wiser, as particularly, referring to many critisists’ conlusion, they do not know whether they will be actually surveilled or not. It remains the issue regarding the independence of the ombudsperson which the US has committed itself to establish in the Privacy Shield Agreement. Of course, he or she may be independent in terms of the intelligence agencies, but most likely not of the government.

However, Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe, the Advocate General responsible for the case, intends to present his proposal, which is not binding on the Judges, on December 12th. The court’s decision is then expected in early 2020. Referring to CJEU judge and judge-rapporteur in the case, Thomas von Danwitz, the digital services and networking would be considerably compromised, anyways, if the CJEU would declare the current content of the SCC ineffective.

 

 

Privacy incidents cost Facebook 5 billion dollar

15. July 2019

According to a report of the Washington Post the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has approved a $ 5 billion (approx. € 4,4 billion) settlement with Facebook. The settlement was reached between the FTC and Facebook due to various Data Protection incidents, in particular the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The settlement relies on a three to two vote – the FTC’s three republicans supported the fine the two democrats were against it- and terminates the procedure for investigating Facebook’s privacy violations against users’ personal information. The fine of $ 5 billion is the highest fine ever assessed against a tech company, but even if it sounds like a very high fine, it only corresponds to the amount of the monthly turnover and is therefore not very high in relative terms. So far, the highest fine was $ 22,5 million for Google in 2012.

The decision of the FTC needs to be approved by the Justice Department. As a rule, however, this is a formality.

This is not the first fine Facebook has to accept in connection with various data protection incidents and certainly not the last. Investigations against Facebook are still ongoing in Spain as well as in Germany. In addition, Facebook has been criticized for quite some time for privacy incidents.

Texas amends Data Breach Notification Law

2. July 2019

The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, recently signed the House Bill 4390 (HB 4390), which modifies the state’s current Data Breach Notification law and introduces an advisory council (“Texas Privacy Privacy Protection Advisory Council”) charged with studying data privacy laws in Texas, other states and relevant other jurisdictions.

Prior to the new amendment, businesses had to disclose Data Breaches to the Data Subjects “as quickly as possible”. Now, a concrete time period for notifying individuals whose sensitive personal information was acquired by an unauthorized person is determined by the bill. Individual notice must now be provided within 60 days after discovering the breach.

If more than 250 residents of Texas are subject to a Data Breach the Texas Attorney General must also be notified within 60 days. Such a notification must include:
– A detailed description of the nature and circumstances of the data breach;
– The number of the affected residents at that time;
– The measures taken regarding the breach and any measures the responsible person intends to take after the notification;
– Information on whether the law enforcement is engaged in investigating the breach.

The amendments take effect on January, 1 2020.

Category: General · USA
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Consumers should know how much their data is worth

27. June 2019

US Senators Mark R. Warner (Democrats) and Josh Hawley (Republicans) want to know from Facebook, Google and Co. exactly how much the data of their users, measured in dollars and cents, is worth to them.

Last Sunday, the two senators announced their intention for the first time in a US talk show: Every three months, each user is to receive an overview of which data has been collected and stored and how the respective provider rates it. In addition, the aggregated value of all user data is to be reported annually to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. In this report, the companies are to disclose how they store, process and protect data and how and with which partner companies they generate sales with the data. All companies with more than 100 million users per month will be affected.

The value of user data has risen enormously in recent years; so far, companies have protected their internal calculations as company secrets. In addition, there is no recognized method for quantifying the value of user data; only when a company is sold or valued by means of an initial public offering (IPO) does it become obvious. In the case of the WhatsApp takeover it was  $ 55 per user, in the case of Skype it was $ 200.

But one can doubt the significance of these figures. A further indication can be the advertising revenues, which are disclosed by companies per quarter. At the end of 2018, Facebook earned around $6 per user worldwide, while Amazon earned $752 per user. These figures are likely to rise in the future.  “For years, social media companies have told consumers that their products are free to the user. But that’s not true – you are paying with your data instead of your wallet,” said Senator Warner. “But the overall lack of transparency and disclosure in this market have made it impossible for users to know what they’re giving up, who else their data is being shared with, or what it’s worth to the platform. […]” Experts believe it is important for consumers to know the value of their data, because only when you know the value of a good you are able to value it.

On Monday, Warner and Rawley plan to introduce the  Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight And Regulations on Data (DASHBOARD) Act to the parliament for its first reading. It remains to be seen whether their plans will meet with the approval of the other senators.

FTC takes action against companies claiming to participate in EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and other international privacy agreements

24. June 2019

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had taken action against several companies that pretended to be compliant with the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and other international privacy agreements.

According to the FTC, SecureTest, Inc., a background screening company, has falsely claimed on its website to have participated in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield. These framework agreements allow companies to transfer consumer data from member states of the European Union and Switzerland to the United States in accordance with EU or Swiss law.

In September 2017, the company applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce for Privacy Shield certification. However, it did not take the necessary steps to be certified as compliant with the framework agreements.

Following the FTC’s complaint, the FTC and SecureTest, Inc. have proposed a settlement agreement. This proposal includes a prohibition for SecureTest to misrepresent its participation in any privacy or security program sponsored by any government or self-regulatory or standardization organization. The proposed agreement will be published in the Federal Register and subject to public comment for 30 days. Afterwards the FTC will make a determination regarding whether to make the proposed consent order final.

The FTC has also sent warning letters to 13 companies that falsely claimed to participate in the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor and the U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor frameworks, which were replaced in 2016 by the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield frameworks. The FTC asked companies to remove from their websites, privacy policies or other public documents any statements claiming to participate in a safe harbor agreement. If the companies fail to take action within 30 days, the FTC warned that it would take appropriate legal action.

The FTC also sent warning letters with the same request to two companies that falsely claimed in their privacy policies that they were participants in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system. The APEC CBPR system is an initiative to improve the protection of consumer data moving between APEC member countries through a voluntary but enforceable code of conduct implemented by participating companies. To become a certified participant, a designated third party, known as an APEC-approved Accountability Agent, must verify and confirm that the company meets the requirements of the CBPR program.

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