Category: USA

Colorado Privacy Act officially enacted into Law

14. July 2021

On July 8, 2021, the state of Colorado officially enacted the Colorado Privacy Act (CPA), which makes it the third state to have a comprehensive data privacy law, following California and Virginia. The Act will go into effect on July 1, 2023, with some specific provisions going into effect at later dates.

The CPA shares many similarities with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Virgina Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA), not having developed any brand-new ideas in its laws. However, there are also differences. For example, the CPA applies to controllers that conduct business in Colorado or target residents of Colorado with their business, and controls or processes the data of more than 100 000 consumers in a calendar year or receive revenue by processing data of more than 25 000 consumers. Therefore, it is broader than the CDPA, and does not include revenue thresholds like the CCPA.

Similar to the CDPA, the CPA defines a consumer as “a Colorado resident acting only in an individual or household context” and explicitly omits individuals acting in “a commercial or employment context, as a job applicant, or as a beneficiary of someone acting in an employment context”. As a result, controllers do not need to consider the employee personal data they collect and process in the application of the CPA.

The CPA further defines “the sale of personal information” as “the exchange of personal data for monetary or other valuable consideration by a controller to a third party”. Importantly, the definition of “sale” explicitly excludes certain types of disclosures, as is the case in the CDPA, such as:

  • Disclosures to a processor that processes the personal data on behalf of a controller;
  • Disclosures of personal data to a third party for purposes of providing a product or service requested by consumer;
  • Disclosures or transfer or personal data to an affiliate of the controller’s;
  • Disclosure or transfer to a third party of personal data as an asset that is part of a proposed or actual merger, acquisition, bankruptcy, or other transaction in which the third party assumes control of all or part of the controller’s assets;
  • Disclosure of personal data that a consumer directs the controller to disclose or intentionally discloses by using the controller to interact with a third party; or intentionally made available by a consumer to the general public via a channel of mass media.

The CPA provides five main consumer rights, such as the right of access, right of correction, right of deletion, right to data portability and right to opt out. In case of the latter, the procedure is different from the other laws. The CPA mandates a controller provide consumers with the right to opt out and a universal opt-out option so a consumer can click one button to exercise all opt-out rights.

In addition, the CPA also provides the consumer with a right to appeal a business’ denial to take action within a reasonable time period.

The CPA differentiates between controller and processor in a similar way that the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does and follows, to an extent, similar basic principles such as duty of transparency, duty of purpose specification, duty of data minimization, duty of care and duty to avoid secondary use. In addition, it follows the principle of duty to avoid unlawful discrimination, which prohibits controllers from processing personal data in violation of state or federal laws that prohibit discrimination.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announces the Data Protection Act 2021

30. June 2021

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced in a press release on June 17, 2021, the reintroduction of the Data Protection Act of 2021. The intention is to create an independent federal agency, the Data Protection Agency, to better equip data protection in the U.S. for the digital age.

Since the first bill was drafted in 2020, it has undergone several updates. For example, the paper will now include adjusted rules to protect data subjects against privacy violations, monitor risky data practices, and examine social, ethical, and economic impacts of data collection. In the press release, Gillibrand explains that the DPA will have three main core tasks. The core tasks are driven by the goal of preventing risky data practices and regulating the collection, processing and sharing of personal data.

The first goal, she says, is to give individuals control and protection over their own data. To this end, data subjects should be given the right to establish and enforce data protection rules. To implement this, emphasis would also have to be placed on complaint handling. The authority would also be given wide-ranging powers. For example, it would be able to conduct investigations and administer civil penalties, injunctions and other appropriate remedies to combat data privacy violations.

The second task would be to promote fair competition in the digital market. This can be achieved, for example, through the development and refinement of model standards, guidelines and policies to protect privacy and data protection. Companies should find it easier to deal with data protection. At the same time, the U.S. should be able to keep pace with leading nations in data protection.

In this context data aggregators are to be monitored by the Data Protection Agency by maintaining a publicly available list of such data aggregators that meet certain thresholds. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) would at the same time be required to report on the privacy and data protection implications of mergers involving major data aggregators or involving the transfer of personal data of 50,000 or more individuals. The bill would also lastly prohibit data aggregators from certain acts. For example, it would prevent the commission of abusive or discriminatory acts in connection with the processing or transfer of personal data. The goal, Gillibrand says, is also to prevent the identification of a person, household, or device from anonymized data.

A third important task is to prepare the U.S. government for the digital age. The agency is supposed to contribute to more education on digital issues by advising Congress on new privacy and technology issues. She says the agency would also participate as the U.S. representative in international privacy forums. The goal also is to ensure consistent regulatory treatment of personal data by federal and state agencies. To that extent, the authority would act as an interface between federal and state agencies.

Senator Gillibrand commented as follows: “In today’s digital age, Big Tech companies are free to sell individuals’ data to the highest bidder without fear of real consequences, posing a severe threat to modern-day privacy and civil rights. A data privacy crisis is looming over the everyday lives of Americans and we need to hold these bad actors accountable. (…) The U.S. needs a new approach to privacy and data protection and it’s Congress’ duty to step forward and seek answers that will give Americans meaningful protection from private companies that value profits over people.”

Category: General · USA

New details on alleged spying on allies by the NSA

18. June 2021

It has been known for years that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been targeting leading politicians. But now new details of the spying operation are coming to light. Several European media investigated the case and found out that the NSA had been using Danish underwater internet cables from 2012 to 2014 to eavesdrop on leading European politicians. It was only through the research that the members of the governments learned of the spying. With regard to this, questions arose, whether Denmark was involved and knew about the operation. Now various European countries demand answers to the allegations.

The media reports revealed that the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (DDIS) had helped the NSA to wiretap European politicians (in German) by allowing the NSA to use the secret Sandagergårdan listening post near Copenhagen. An important internet hub for various underwater cables was then tapped there. The NSA apparently got access to text messages, telephone calls and internet traffic including searches, chats and messaging services.

Following the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and a subsequent investigation by a secret internal working group at DDIS, the Danish-US cooperation in the surveillance of European neighboring countries was documented in an internal report of DDIS in 2015. However, the findings have not been disclosed until today. Nevertheless, the Danish government has probably known about the spying operation since 2015 at the latest. More than that, the surveillance apparently also targeted Denmark itself (in German), including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance.

Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen was informed about the spying in August 2020. In the wake of that, some DDIS employees were fired, without a full explanation being released. The government said at the time that an audit had raised suspicions of illegal surveillance by DDIS. In October 2020, the Danish Ministry of Justice ordered a commission of inquiry into the operations at DDIS. Its conclusions are due at the end of 2021.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, being among those affected by the espionage, made clear that such tactics were not acceptable between allies. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist agreed with the statements. While emphasizing the value of relations between Europeans and Americans, they insisted on explaining the case by the two accused countries. Neither of the intelligence services would comment on the allegations. The Danish Defence Minister only stated in general terms that systematic wiretapping of close allies was unacceptable.

High Court dismisses Facebook’s procedural complaints in Data Transfer Case

18. May 2021

On Friday, May 14th 2021, the Irish High Court dismissed all of Facebook’s procedural complaints in a preliminary decision from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission regarding data transfers from the EU to the U.S. It rejected Facebook’s claims that the privacy regulator had given it too little time to respond or issued a judgment prematurely.

If finalized, the preliminary decision could force the social-media company to suspend sending personal information about EU users to Facebook’s servers in the U.S. While the decision of the High Court was only a procedural one, experts warn that the logic in Ireland’s provisional order could apply to other large tech companies that are subject to U.S. surveillance laws. This could potentially lead to a widespread disruption of trans-Atlantic data flows.

Facebook addressed the preliminary decision, stating that Friday’s court decision was procedural and that it planned to defend its data transfers before the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). It added that the regulator’s preliminary decision could be “damaging not only to Facebook, but also to users and other businesses.”

However, the Irish DPC still needs to finalize its draft decision ordering a suspension of data transfers and submit it to other EU privacy regulators for approval before it comes into effect. That process could take months, not counting potential other court challenges by Facebook.

Portuguese DPA Orders Suspension of U.S. Data Transfers by National Institute of Statistics

29. April 2021

On April 27, 2021, the Portuguese Data Protection Authority “Comissão Nacional de Proteção de Dados” (CNPD) ordered the National Institute of Statistics (INE) to suspend any international data transfers of personal data to the U.S., as well as other countries without an adequate level of protection, within 12 hours.

The INE collects different kinds of data from Portuguese residents from 2021 Census surveys and transfers it to Cloudfare, Inc. (Cloudfare), a service provider in the U.S. that assists the surveys’ operation. EU Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) are in place with the U.S. service provider to legitimize the data transfers.

Due to receiving a lot of complaints, the CNPD started an investigation into the INE’s data transfers to third countries outside of the EU. In the course of the investigation, the CNDP concluded that Cloudfare is directly subject to U.S. surveillance laws, such as FISA 702, for national security purposes. These kinds of U.S. surveillance laws impose a legal obligation on companies like Cloudfare to give unrestricted access to personal data of its customers and users to U.S. public authorities without informing the data subjects.

In its decision to suspend any international data transfers of the INE, the CNPD referred to the Schrems II ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Accordingly, the CNPD is if the opinion that personal data transferred to the U.S. by the INE was not afforded a level of data protection essentially equivalent to that guaranteed under EU law, as further safeguards have to be put in place to guarantee requirements that are essentially equivalent to those required under EU law by the principle of proportionality. Due to the lack of further safeguards, the surveillance by the U.S. authorities are not limited to what is strictly necessary, and therefore the SCCs alone do not offer adequate protection.

The CNPD also highlighted that, according to the Schrems II ruling, data protection authorities are obliged to suspend or prohibit data transfers, even when those transfers are based on the European Commission’s SCCs, if there are no guarantees that these can be complied with in the recipient country. As Cloudfare is also receiving a fair amount of sensitive data n relation to its services for the INE, it influenced the CNDP’s decision to suspend the transfers.

Facebook data leak affects more than 500 million users

7. April 2021

Confidential data of 533 million Facebook users has surfaced in a forum for cybercriminals. A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that the data came from a leak in 2019.

The leaked data includes Facebook usernames and full name, date of birth, phone number, location and biographical information, and in some cases, the email address of the affected users. Business Insider has verified the leaked data through random sampling. Even though some of the data may be outdated, the leak poses risks if, for example, email addresses or phone numbers are used for hacking. The leak was made public by the IT security firm Hudson Rock. Their employees noticed that the data sets were offered by a bot for money in a hacking forum. The data set was then offered publicly for free and thus made accessible to everyone.

The US magazine Wired points out that Facebook is doing more to confuse than to help clarify. First, Facebook referred to an earlier security vulnerability in 2019, which we already reported. This vulnerability was patched in August last year. Later, a blog post from a Facebook product manager confirmed that it was a major security breach. However, the data had not been accessed through hacking, but rather the exploitation of a legitimate Facebook feature. In addition, the affected data was so old that GDPR and U.S. privacy laws did not apply, he said. In the summer of 2019, Facebook reached an agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to pay a $5 billion fine for all data breaches before June 12, 2019. According to Wired, the current database is not congruent with the one at issue at the time, as the most recent Facebook ID in it is from late May 2019.

Users can check whether they are affected by the data leak via the website HaveIBeenPwned.

Microsoft Exchange Target of Hacks

29. March 2021

Microsoft’s Exchange Servers are exposed to an ever-increasing number of attacks. This is the second major cyberattack on Microsoft in recent months, following the so-called SolarWinds hack (please see our blog post). The new attacks are based on vulnerabilities that have been in the code for some time but have only recently been discovered.

In a blog post published on March 2nd, 2021, Microsoft explains the hack and a total of four found vulnerabilities. The first vulnerability allows attackers to gain access to a Microsoft Exchange Server, the second vulnerability allows them to execute their code on the system, and the third and fourth vulnerabilities allow the hacker write access to arbitrary files on the server. Microsoft Exchange Server versions 2019, 2016, 2013 and 2010 are affected, and Microsoft released a security update for all of them on March 2nd, even though support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 ended in October 2020.

Reportedly, Microsoft was informed about the vulnerability in January. Since then, a growing number of hacker groups have started to use the exploit. The initial campaign is attributed to HAFNIUM, a group believed to be state-sponsored and operating out of China. According to Microsoft, the vulnerabilities have been in the code for many years without being discovered. Only recently has Microsoft become aware of these vulnerabilities and begun working on them. Microsoft shared information on the vulnerability through the Microsoft Active Protections Program (Mapp), where they share information with a group of 80 security companies. The attacks began shortly after Microsoft began working to resolve the vulnerabilities. There are many similarities between the code Microsoft shared through Mapp and the code the attackers are using.

In an article about a recently published One-Click Exchange On-premises Mitigation Tool (EOMT), Microsoft developers describe how admins can secure Exchange servers against the current attacks within a very short amount of time. The tool only serves as an initial protective measure. For comprehensive protection, available security updates must be installed. In addition, it must be checked whether the hackers have already exploited existing gaps to leave behind backdoors and malware. This is because the updates close the gaps, but do not eliminate an infection that has already occurred. Hackers often do not use gaps immediately for an attack, but to gain access later, for example for large-scale blackmail.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), organizations affected by an attack on personal data must, in certain circumstances, report such an incident to the relevant supervisory authority and possibly to the affected individuals. Even after a successful patch, it should be kept in mind that affected organizations were vulnerable in the meantime. Pursuant to Art. 33 of the GDPR, system compromises that may affect personal data and result in a risk to data subjects must be notified to the competent supervisory authority. For such a notification, the time of discovery of the security breach, the origin of the security breach, the possible scope of the personal data affected, and the first measures taken must be documented.

The state of Virginia is second state in the USA to enact major Data Protection Legislation

17. March 2021

On March 2nd, 2021, Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, signed the Consumer Data Protection Act into law without any further amendments.

This makes the state of Virginia the second US state to enact a major privacy law, next to California’s CCPA enacted in 2018. At the point of the law passing to the Senate, there was debate that the bills were flawed as they are not including a private right of action and leaving all enforcement to the Office of the Attorney General. This caused some senators to oppose the bills, however it was ultimately passed by a vote of 32 to 7. The Consumer Data Protection Act will take effect on January 1st, 2023.

The bill establishes a comprehensive framework for controlling and processing personal data of Virginia residents. In addition, it provides Virginia residents with certain rights with respect to their personal data, including rights of access, correction, deletion, portability, the right to opt out of certain processing operations, as well as the right to appeal a controller’s decision regarding a rights request. The bill further states requirements relating to the principles of data minimization, processing limitations, data security, non-discrimination, third-party contracting and data protection assessments, as well as imposes certain requirements directly on entities who act as processors of data on behalf of a controller.

However, the law also includes a number of exemptions at entity level, such as exemptions for financial institutions subject to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and also includes some data or context specific exemptions, such as an exemption for HR-related data processing.

The Attorney General’s office, as the enforcing entity, has to provide 30 days’ notice of any violation and allow an opportunity for the controller to cure any violation. In case a controller does not oblige and leaves the violation uncured, the Attorney General is able to file an action seeking $7,500 per violation.

Clubhouse Data Protection issues

28. January 2021

Clubhouse is a new social networking app by the US company Alpha Exploration Co. available for iOS devices. Registered users can open rooms for others to talk about various topics. Participation is possible both as a speaker and as a mere listener. These rooms can be available for the public or as closed groups. The moderators speak live in the rooms and the listeners can then join the virtual room. Participants are initially muted and can be unmuted by the moderators to talk. In addition, the moderators can also mute the participants or exclude them from the respective room. As of now, new users need to be invited by other users, the popularity of these invitations started to rise in autumn 2020 when US celebrities started to use the app. With increasing popularity also in the EU, Clubhouse has come under criticism from a data protection perspective.

As mentioned Clubhouse can only be used upon an invitation. To use the option to invite friends, users must share their address book with Clubhouse. In this way, Alpha Exploration can collect personal data from contacts who have not previously consented to the processing of their data and who do not use the app. Not only Alpha Exploration, but also users may be acting unlawfully when they give the app access to their contacts. The user may also be responsible for the data processing associated with the sharing of address books. Therefore, it is not only the responsibility of Alpha Exploration, but also of the user to ensure that consent has been obtained from the contacts whose personal data is being processed. From a data protection perspective, it is advisable not to grant the Clubhouse app access to this data unless the consent of the respective data subjects has been obtained and ideally documented. Currently, this data is transferred to US servers without the consent of the data subjects in the said address books. Furthermore, it is not apparent in what form and for what purposes the collected contact and account information of third parties is processed in the USA.

Under Clubouse’s Terms of Service, and in many cases according to several national laws, users are prohibited from recording or otherwise storing conversations without the consent of all parties involved. Nevertheless, the same Terms of Service include the sentence “By using the service, you consent to having your audio temporarily recorded when you speak in a room.” According to Clubhouse’s Privacy Policy, these recordings are used to punish violations of the Terms of Service, the Community Guidelines and legal regulations. The data is said to be deleted when the room in question is closed without any violations having been reported. Again, consent to data processing should be treated as the general rule. This consent must be so-called informed consent. In view of the fact that the scope and purpose of the storage are not apparent and are vaguely formulated, there are doubts about this. Checking one’s own platform for legal violations is in principle, if not a legal obligation in individual cases, at least a so-called legitimate interest (Art. 6 (1) (f) GDPR) of the platform operator. As long as recordings are limited to this, they are compliant with the GDPR. The platform operator who records the conversations is primarily responsible for this data processing. However, users who use Clubhouse for conversations with third parties may be jointly responsible, even though they do not record themselves. This is unlikely to play a major role in the private sphere, but all the more so if the use is in a business context.

It is suspected that Clubhouse creates shadow profiles in its own network. These are profiles for people who appear in the address books of Clubhouse users but are not themselves registered with Clubhouse. For this reason, Clubhouse considers numbers like “Mobile-Box” to be well-connected potential users. So far, there is no easy way to object to Clubhouse’s creation of shadow profiles that include name, number, and potential contacts.

Clubhouse’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy do not mention the GDPR. There is also no address for data protection information requests in the EU. However, this is mandatory, as personal data of EU citizens is also processed. In addition, according to Art. 14 GDPR, EU data subjects must be informed about how their data is processed. This information must be provided to data subjects before their personal data is processed. That is, before the data subject is invited via Clubhouse and personal data is thereby stored on Alpha Exploration’s servers. This information does not take place. There must be a simple opt-out option, it is questionable whether one exists. According to the GDPR, companies that process data of European citizens must also designate responsible persons for this in Europe. So far, it is not apparent that Clubhouse even has such data controllers in Europe.

The german “Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband” (“VZBV”), the german federate Consumer Organisation, has issued a written warning (in German) to Alpha Exploration, complaining that Clubhouse is operated without the required imprint and that the terms of use and privacy policy are only available in English, not in German as required. The warning includes a penalty-based cease-and-desist declaration relating to Alpha Exploration’s claim of the right to extensive use of the uploaded contact information. Official responses from European data protection authorities regarding Clubhouse are currently not available. The main data protection authority in this case is the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

So far, it appears that Clubhouse’s data protection is based solely on the CCPA and not the GDPR. Business use of Clubhouse within the scope of the GDPR should be done with extreme caution, if at all.

Hackers access Microsoft source codes

7. January 2021

In December 2020 cybersecurity firm FireEye reported that it had been attacked by what they called a “highly sophisticated cyber threat actor”, during which copies of its red team tool kit were stolen. Also in December, FireEye disclosed that it discovered attacks on SolarWinds’ tool “Orion” while investigating its own security breach. In a SEC filing, SolarWinds said up to 18,000 of 33,000 Orion customers may have been affected. The attacks may have begun in early 2020.

A group believed to be state-sponsored used contaminated updates for the “Orion” network management software. They accessed a SolarWinds system used to update Orion and from there inserted malicious code into legitimate software updates that were then distributed to customers. The affected versions are 2019.4 through 2020.2.1, which were released between March and June 2020. It is still unclear how the attackers initially gained access to SolarWinds’ network. Security researcher Vinoth Kumar stated on Twitter he contacted SolarWinds in 2019 regarding an FTP access uploaded to GitHub in 2018. Using the password “solarwinds123,” he was able to upload a file to the SolarWinds server as proof of the vulnerability.

Agencies and companies that have been penetrated by the Orion software include the U.S. Treasury Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, parts of the Pentagon, Belkin, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, and Nvidia.
The FBI and other U.S. security agencies issued a joint statement calling the attack “significant and ongoing”. Also, agencies and companies in other countries such as Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates were affected.

So far, it is unclear what damage, if any, was caused by the attacks and what data was accessed. According to reports, in some cases, internal communications were accessed and various documents were copied, with documents relating to ongoing product development, in particular, attracting the attackers’ interest. In an interview published by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo claimed Russia was responsible for the attack.

“This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

Among those affected, Microsoft is being most viral regarding the hack. In a blog post published on December 31, the company even admitted that the hackers had access to its source codes. According to that post, they were able to view the code but not modify it. Still, this could pose a significant security risk, as the attackers can now study the software’s architecture and look for possible entry points. Microsoft won’t reveal which tool’s source codes the attackers had access to. It also identified more than 40 of its own customers who were targeted.
Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote:

“This is not just an attack on specific targets but on the trust and reliability of the world’s critical infrastructure in order to advance one nation’s intelligence agency.”

This cyber-attack shows the importance of strong cybersecurity for every company and private user, as even tech-giants and fundamental U.S. authorities were victims of this attack. In particular, access to Microsoft’s source codes could be the ground for further attacks on high- and low-profile targets, as Microsoft’s tools are used in businesses of all sizes and by individuals as well.

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