Category: USA

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.

Washington State Lawmakers Propose new Privacy Bill

23. January 2020

Washington lawmakers introduced in January 2020, a law that would give state residents new privacy rights. The law is called “Washington Privacy Act” (WPA).

If passed, the Privacy Act would enact a comprehensive data protection framework for Washington that includes individual rights that are very similar and go beyond the rights in the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), as well as a range of other obligations on businesses that do not yet exist in any U.S. privacy law.

Furthermore, the new draft bill contains strong provisions that largely align with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and commercial facial recognition provisions that start with a legal default of affirmative consent. Nonetheless, legislators must work within a remarkably short time-frame to pass a law that can be embraced by both House and Senate within the next six weeks of Washington’s legislative session. If passed, the bill would go into effect on July 31, 2021.

The current draft provides  data protection to all Washington State residents, and would apply to entities that conduct business in Washington or produce products or services targeted to Washington residents. Such entities must control or process data of at least 100,000 consumers; or derive 50% of gross revenue from the sale of personal data and process or control personal data of at least 25,000 consumers (with “consumers” defined as natural persons who are Washington residents, acting in an individual or household context). The draft bill will not apply to state and local governments or municipal corporations. The new bill would further provide all state residents, among other rights, the ability to opt out of targeted advertising.

The new draft bill will  regulate companies that process “personal data,” defined broadly as “any information that is linked or reasonably linkable to an identified or identifiable natural person” (not including de-identified data or publicly available information “information that is lawfully made available from federal, state, or local government records”), with specific provisions for pseudonymous data.

Category: Cyber security · GDPR · USA
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More US States are pushing on with new Privacy Legislation

3. January 2020

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) came into effect on January 1, 2020 and will be the first step in the United States in regulating data privacy on the Internet. Currently, the US does not have a federal-level general consumer data privacy law that is comparable to that of the privacy laws in EU countries or even the supranational European GDPR.

But now, several other US States have taken inspiration from the CCPA and are in the process of bringing forth their own state legislation on consumer privacy protections on the Internet, including

  • The Massachusetts Data Privacy Law “S-120“,
  • The New York Privacy Act “S5642“,
  • The Hawaii Consumer Privacy Protection Act “SB 418“,
  • The Maryland Online Consumer Protection Act “SB 613“, and
  • The North Dakota Bill “HB 1485“.

Like the CCPA, most of these new privacy laws have a broad definition of the term “Personal Information” and are aimed at protecting consumer data by strenghtening consumer rights.

However, the various law proposals differ in the scope of the consumer rights. All of them grant consumers the ‘right to access’ their data held by businesses. There will also be a ‘right to delete’ in most of these states, but only some give consumers a private ‘right of action’ for violations.

There are other differences with regards to the businesses that will be covered by the privacy laws. In some states, the proposed laws will apply to all businesses, while in other states the laws will only apply to businesses with yearly revenues of over 10 or 25 Million US-Dollars.

As more US states are beginning to introduce privacy laws, there is an increasing possiblity of a federal US privacy law in the near future. Proposals from several members of Congress already exist (Congresswomen Eshoo and Lofgren’s Proposal and Senators Cantwell/Schatz/Klobuchar/Markey’s Proposal and Senator Wicker’s Proposal).

Advocate General releases opinion on the validity of SCCs in case of Third Country Transfers

19. December 2019

Today, Thursday 19 of December, the European Court of Justice’s (CJEU) Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe released his opinion on the validity of Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) in cases of personal data transfers to processors situated in third countries.

The background of the case, on which the opinion builds on, originates in the proceedings initiated by Mr. Maximillian Schrems, where he stepped up against Facebook’s business practice of transferring the personal data of its European subscribers to servers located in the United States. The case (Schrems I) led the CJEU on October 6, 2015, to invalidate the Safe Harbor arrangement, which up to that point governed data transfers between the EU and the U.S.A.

Following the ruling, Mr. Schrems decided to challenge the transfers performed on the basis of the EU SCCs, the alternative mechanism Facebook has chosen to rely on to legitimize its EU-U.S. data flows, on the basis of similar arguments to those raised in the Schrems I case. The Irish DPA brought proceedings before the Irish High Court, which referred 11 questions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling, the Schrems II case.

In the newly published opinion, the Advocate General validates the established SCCs in case of a commercial transfer, despite the possibility of public authorities in the third country processing the personal data for national security reasons. Furthermore, the Advocate General states that the continuity of the high level of protection is not only guaranteed by the adequacy decision of the court, but just as well by the contractual safeguards which the exporter has in place that need to match that level of protection. Therefore, the SCCs represent a general mechanism applicable to transfers, no matter the third country and its adequacy of protection. In addition, and in light of the Charter, there is an obligation for the controller as well as the supervisory authority to suspend any third country transfer if, because of a conflict between the SCCs and the laws in the third country, the SCCs cannot be complied with.

In the end, the Advocate General also clarified that the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield decision of 12 July 2016 is not part of the current proceedings, since those only cover the SCCs under Decision 2010/87, taking the questions of the validity of the Privacy Shield off the table.

While the Advocate General’s opinion is not binding, it represents the suggestion of a legal solution for cases for which the CJEU is responsible. However, the CJEU’s decision on the matter is not expected until early 2020, setting the curiosity on the outcome of the case high.

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