Category: EU Commission

New EU SCC must be used as of now

29. September 2021

In June 2021, the European Commission published the long-awaited new Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) for the transfers of personal data to so-called third countries under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (please see our blog post). These new SCC modules replace the three 10-year-old SCC sets that were adopted under the EU Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and thus could not meet the requirements of the GDPR for data transfers to third countries, nor the significant Schrems II ruling of July 16th, 2020 (please see our blog post). The transfer of data to third countries has not only recently become problematic and a focus of supervisory authorities.

As of Monday, September 27th, 2021, these new SCC must be used for new contracts entered into after September 26th, 2021, and for new processing activities that begin after September 26th, if the contract or processing activity involves the transfer of personal data to so-called inadequate third countries. These are countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) not deemed to have an adequate level of data protection by an adequacy decision of the European Commission.

Contracts signed before September 27th, 2021, based on the old SCC will still be considered adequate until December 27th, 2022. For these contracts, the old SCCs already signed can be maintained in the meantime as long as the processing of personal data that is the subject of the contract in question does not change. The SCC used for these contracts must be updated to the new SCC, or other data transfer mechanisms in accordance with the GDPR, by December 27th, 2022. As of that date, all SCC used as safeguards for data transfers to inadequate third countries must be the new SCC.

European Commission Adopts UK Adequacy Decisions

5. July 2021

On June 28, 2021, the European Commission adopted two adequacy decisions for the United Kingdom, one under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and another under the Law Enforcement Directive.

This means that organizations in the EU can continue to transfer personal data to organizations in the UK without restriction and fear of repercussions. Thus, there is no need to rely upon data transfer mechanisms, such as the EU Standard Contractual Clauses, to ensure an adequate level of protection while transferring personal data, which represents a relief as the bridging mechanism of the interim period decided on after Brexit set out to expire by the end of June 2021.

The European Commission found the U.K.’s data protection system has continued to incorporate to the same rules that were applicable when it was an EU member state, as it had “fully incorporated” the principles, rights and obligations of the GDPR and Law Enforcement Directive into its post-Brexit legal system.

The Commission also noted the U.K. system provides strong safeguards in regards to how it handles personal data access by public authorities, particularly for issues of national security.

In regards to criticism of potential changes in the UK’s legal system concerning personal data, Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency stated that: „We have listened very carefully to the concerns expressed by the Parliament, the Members States and the European Data Protection Board, in particular on the possibility of future divergence from our standards in the UK’s privacy framework. We are talking here about a fundamental right of EU citizens that we have a duty to protect. This is why we have significant safeguards and if anything changes on the UK side, we will intervene.“

The Commission highlighted that the collection of data by UK intelligence authorities is legally subject to prior authorization by an independent judicial body and that any access to data needs to be necessary and proportionate to the purpose pursued. Individuals also have the ability to seek redress in the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

EU Commission publishes Draft Adequacy Decision for South Korea

25. June 2021

On 16 June 2021, the European Commission published the draft adequacy decision for South Korea and transmitted it to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) for consultation. Thus, the Commission launched the formal procedure towards the adoption of the adequacy decision. In 2017, the Commission announced to prioritise discussions on possible adequacy decisions with important trading partners in East and South-East Asia, starting with Japan and South Korea. The adequacy decision for Japan was already adopted in 2019.

In the past, the Commission diligently reviewed South Korea’s law and practices with regards to data protection. In the course of ongoing negotiations with South Korea, the investigative and enforcement powers of the Korean data protection supervisory authority “PIPC” were strengthened, among other things. After the EDPB has given its opinion, the adequacy decision will need to be approved by a committee composed of representatives of the EU Member States.

The decision of an adequate level of protection pursuant to Art. 45 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by the Commission is one of the possibilities to transfer personal data from the EU to a third-country in a GDPR-compliant manner. The adequacy decision will serve as an important addition to the free trade agreement and a strengthening of cooperation between the EU and South Korea. Věra Jourová, the Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, expressed after launching the formal procedure:

“This agreement with the Republic of Korea will improve the protection of personal data for our citizens and support business in dynamic trade relations. It is also a sign of an increasing convergence of data protection legislation around the world. In the digitalised economy, free and safe data flows are not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Especially in light of the Schrems II decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the adequacy decision for South Korea will be an invaluable asset for European and South Korean companies conducting business with each other.

Amazon facing potential record GDPR fine

18. June 2021

Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection, the CNPD, has proposed a $ 425 million (€ 348.7 million) fine against Amazon.com Inc. for alleged GDPR violations, the Wall Street Journal reports. It would be the highest penalty to date under EU data protection law, exceeding the current record penalty of € 50 million against Google LLC.

It is not yet clear to the public what exactly the allegations are since the statements are based on a confidential source. Amazon also declined to comment on the case. The charges are apparently related to Amazon’s data collection and usage practices, but do not involve the Amazon Web Services cloud computing business.

The CNPD is Amazon’s competent data protection authority as the international retail company has its regional headquarters in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. According to the Article 64 GDPR procedure, the CNPD submitted its draft decision to data protection authorities of the other EU member states, which will have to approve the sanction before it can be officially imposed. Based on comparable cases in the past, the process could take months and lead to substantive changes, including an increased or reduced fine.

Though the proposed amount would set a record, it is far below the maximum of 4 % of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year allowed by Article 83 (5) GDPR. It amounts to only about 0.1 % of Amazon’s annual revenue. As some critics say, this illustrates a pattern of data protection authorities favoring big-tech companies and often reducing large initial proposals after a long deliberation period. Given the companies’ massive incomes, such penalties are easy to recover from and ultimately, they run counter to the preventive purpose of the punishment.

As a result, these companies could soon fall under the terms of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, which were proposed by the European Commission at the end of 2020 to upgrade rules governing digital services in the EU. This new set of regulations, which specifically targets tech companies, increases potential fines to 10 % of the global turnover.

New SCCs published by the EU Commission for international data transfers

10. June 2021

On June 4th 2021, the EU Commission adopted new standard contractual clauses (SCC) for international data transfers. The SCCs are model contracts that can constitute a suitable guarantee under Art. 46 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the transfer of personal data to third countries. Third countries are those outside the EU/European Economic Area (EEA), e.g. the USA.

The new clauses were long awaited, as the current standard contractual clauses are more than 10 years old and thus could neither take into account the requirements regarding third country transfers of the GDPR nor the significant Schrems II ruling of July 16th, 2020. Thus, third country transfers had become problematic and had not only recently been targeted by investigations by supervisory authorities, inter alia in Germany.

What is new about the SCCs now presented is above all their structure. The different types of data transfers are no longer spread over two different SCC models, but are found in one document. In this respect, they are divided into four different “modules”. This should allow for a flexible contract design. For this purpose, the appropriate module is to be selected according to the relationship of the parties. The following modules are included in the new SCCs:

Module 1: Transfer of personal data between two controllers.
Module 2: Transfer of personal data from the controller to the processor
Module 3: Transfer of personal data between two processors
Module 4: Transfer of personal data from the processor to the controller

The content of the new provisions also includes an obligation to carry out a data transfer impact assessment, i.e. the obligation to satisfy oneself that the contractual partner from the third country is in a position to fulfil its obligations under the current SCCs. Also newly included are the duty to defend against government requests that contradict the requirements of the standard protection clauses and to inform the competent supervisory authorities about the requests. The data transfer impact assessment must be documented and submitted to the supervisory authorities upon request.

The documents are the final working documents. The official publication of the SCCs in the Official Journal of the European Union took place on June 7th, 2021. From then on and within a period of 18 months until December 27th, 2022, the existing contracts with partners from third countries, in particular Microsoft or Amazon, must be supplemented with the new SCCs.

However, even if the new SCCs are used, a case-by-case assessment of the level of data protection remains unavoidable because the new clauses alone will generally not be sufficient to meet the requirements of the ECJ in the above-mentioned ruling. In such a case-by-case examination, the text of the contract and the actual level of data protection must be examined. The latter should be done by means of a questionnaire to the processor in the third country.

Accordingly, it is not enough to simply sign the new SCC, but the controller must take further action to enable secure data transfer to third countries.

EDPS investigating EU institutions’ use of US cloud services

2. June 2021

The European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”) announced on May 27th, 2021, that it has opened an investigation into the use of Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS by EU institutions and has begun an audit of the European Commission’s use of Microsoft Office 365. The EDPS is the EU.s data protection authority.

The EDPS is the independent supervisory authority responsible for monitoring the processing of personal data by EU institutions and bodies.

Both investigations are a consequence of the Schrems II ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) on June 16th, 2020 (please see our blog post). The CJEU ruled that U.S. its intense surveillance practices do not comply with the GDPR’s data protection standards. Accordingly, personal data of EU citizens may not be processed in the U.S. solely on the basis of the protection provided by so-called standard contractual clauses. Controllers, in cooperation with data importers, must examine and adapt additional measures on a case-by-case basis to ensure a level of data protection equivalent to the GDPR.

The investigations will examine whether EU institutions are complying with data protection rules and the Schrems II ruling.

Wojciech Wiewiórowski, EDPS head, is quoted in the EDPS announcement:

I am aware that the “Cloud II contracts” were signed in early 2020 before the “Schrems II” judgement and that both Amazon and Microsoft have announced new measures with the aim to align themselves with the judgement. Nevertheless, these announced measures may not be sufficient to ensure full compliance with EU data protection law and hence the need to investigate this properly.

If the EDPS finds that Cloud II contracts do not comply with the Schrems II ruling, this could force EU institutions to switch to alternative cloud providers based in the EU in the future, as the EDPS has stated that he wants EU institutions to lead by example.

EDPB adopts opinion on draft UK adequacy decisions

16. April 2021

In accordance with its obligation under Article 70 (1) (s) of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), on April 13th, 2021, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) adopted its opinions on the EU Commissions (“EC”) draft UK adequacy decision (please see our blog post). “Opinion 14/2021” is based on the GDPR and assesses both general data protection aspects and the public authority access to personal data transferred from the EEA for law enforcement and national security purposes contained in the draft adequacy decision, a topic the EC also discussed in detail. At the same time, the EDPB also issued “Opinion 15/2021” on the transfer of personal data under the Law Enforcement Directive (LED).

The EDPB notes that there is a strong alignment between the EU and the UK data protection regimes, especially in the principles relating to the processing of personal data. It expressly praises the fact that the adequacy decision is to apply for a limited period, as the EDPB also sees the danger that the UK could change its data protection laws. Andrea Jelinek, EDPB Chair, is quoted:

“The UK data protection framework is largely based on the EU data protection framework. The UK Data Protection Act 2018 further specifies the application of the GDPR in UK law, in addition to transposing the LED, as well as granting powers and imposing duties on the national data protection supervisory authority, the ICO. Therefore, the EDPB recognises that the UK has mirrored, for the most part, the GDPR and LED in its data protection framework and when analysing its law and practice, the EDPB identified many aspects to be essentially equivalent. However, whilst laws can evolve, this alignment should be maintained. So we welcome the Commission’s decision to limit the granted adequacy in time and the intention to closely monitor developments in the UK.”

But the EDPB also highlights areas of concern that need to be further monitored by the EC:

1. The immigration exemption, which restricts the rights of those data subjects affected.

2. How the transfer of personal data from the EEA to the UK could undermine EU data protection rules, for example on basis of future UK adequacy decisions.

3. Access to personal data by public authorities is given a lot of space in the opinion. For example, the Opinion analyses in detail the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and related case law. The EDPB welcomes the numerous oversight and redress mechanisms in the UK but identifies a number of issues that need “further clarification and/or oversight”, namely bulk searches, independent assessment and oversight of the use of automated processing tools, and the safeguards provided under UK law when it comes to disclosure abroad, particularly with regard to the application of national security exemptions.

In summary, this EDPB opinion does not put any obstacles in the way of an adequacy decision and recognises that there are many areas where the UK and EU regimes converge. Nevertheless, it highlights very clearly that there are deficiencies, particularly in the UK’s system for monitoring national security, which need to be reviewed and kept under observation.

As for the next steps, the draft UK adequacy decisions will now be assessed by representatives of the EU Member States under the “comitology procedure“. The Commission can then adopt the draft UK adequacy decisions. A bridging period during which free data transfer to the UK is permitted even without an adequacy decision ends in June 2021 (please see our blog post).

EU and South Korea complete adequacy talks

6. April 2021

On March 30th, 2021, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and Chairperson of the Personal Information Protection Commission of the Republic of Korea Yoon Jong In announced the successful conclusion of adequacy talks between the EU und the Republic of Korea (“South Korea”). These adequacy discussions began in 2017, and there was already initially a high level of convergence between the EU and the Republic of Korea on data protection issues, which has been further enhanced by additional safeguards to further strengthen the level of protection in South Korea. Recently, South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Act (“PIPA”) took effect and the investigative and enforcement powers of South Korea’s data protection authority, the Personal Information Protection Commission (“PIPC”), were strengthened.

In the GDPR, this adequacy decision is based on Art. 45 GDPR. Article 45(3) GDPR empowers the EU Commission to adopt an implementing act to determine that a non-EU country ensures an “adequate level of protection”. This means a level of protection for personal data that is substantially equivalent to the level of protection within the EU. Once it has been determined that a non-EU country provides an “adequate level of protection”, transfers of personal data from the EU to that non-EU country can take place without further requirements. South Korea will be the 13th country to which personal data may be transferred on the basis of an adequacy decision. An adequacy decision covering both commercial providers and the public sector will enable free and secure data flows between the EU and the Republic of Korea and it will complement the EU-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement.

Until the free flow of data can occur, the EU Commission must initiate the procedure for adopting its adequacy finding. In this procedure, the European Data Protection Board will issue an opinion and a committee composed of representatives of the EU member states must agree. The EU Commission may then adopt the adequacy decision.

European Commission publishes draft UK adequacy decisions

25. February 2021

On February 19th, 2021, the European Commission (EC) has published the draft of two adequacy decisions for the transfer of personal data to the United Kingdom (UK), one under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the second for the Law Enforcement Directive. If approved, the decisions would confer adequacy status on the UK and ensure that personal data from the EU can continue to flow freely to the UK. In the EC’s announcement launching the process to adopt the newly drafted adequacy decisions Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, is quoted:

We have thoroughly checked the privacy system that applies in the UK after it has left the EU. Now European Data Protection Authorities will thoroughly examine the draft texts. EU citizens’ fundamental right to data protection must never be compromised when personal data travel across the Channel. The adequacy decisions, once adopted, would ensure just that.

In the GDPR, this adequacy decision is based on Art. 45 GDPR. Article 45(3) GDPR empowers the EU Commission to adopt an implementing act to determine that a non-EU country ensures an “adequate level of protection”. This means a level of protection for personal data that is substantially equivalent to the level of protection within the EU. Once it has been determined that a non-EU country provides an “adequate level of protection”, transfers of personal data from the EU to that non-EU country can take place without further requirements. In the UK, the processing of personal data is governed by the “UK GDPR” and the Data Protection Act 2018, which are based on the EU GDPR. The UK is and has committed to remain part of the European Convention on Human Rights and “Convention 108” of the Council of Europe. “Convention 108” is a binding treaty under international law to protect individuals from abuses in the electronic processing of personal data, and in particular provides for restrictions on cross-border data flows where data is to be transferred to states where no comparable protection exists.

The GDPR adequacy decision draft addresses several areas of concern. One of these is the power of intelligence services in the UK. In this respect, the draft focuses on legal bases, restrictions and safeguards for the collection of information for national security purposes. It also details the oversight structure over the intelligence services and the remedies available to those affected. Another aspect discussed is the limitation of data subjects’ rights in the context of UK immigration law. The EC concludes that interference with individuals’ fundamental rights is limited to what is strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose and that there is effective legal protection against such interference. As the UK GDPR is based on the GDPR and therefore the UK privacy laws should provide an adequate level of protection for data subjects, the main risks for EU data subjects do not lie in the current status of these laws but in possible changes of these laws in the future. For this reason, the EU Commission has built a fixed period of validity into the draft adequacy decision. If adopted, this decision would be valid for a period of four years and the adequacy finding could be extended for a further four years if the level of protection in the UK remains adequate. However, this extension would not be automatic, but subject to a thorough review. This draft marks the first time that the EU has imposed a time limit on an adequacy decision. Other adequacy decisions are subject to monitoring and regular review but are not time-limited by default.

The UK government welcomed the EC’s draft in a statement, while also calling on the EU to “swiftly complete” the process for adopting and formalizing the adequacy decisions, as the “bridging mechanism” will only remain in force until June 30th. Under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the EU and UK agreed on a transition period of up to six months from January 1st, 2021, during which the UK is treated as an adequate jurisdiction (please see our blog post). The draft adequacy decisions address the flow of data from the EU to the UK. The flow of data from the UK to the EU is governed by UK legislation that has applied since 1 January 2021. The UK has decided that the EU ensures an adequate level of protection and that data can therefore flow freely from the UK to the EU.

Next, the non-binding opinion of the European Data Protection Board is sought (Art. 70 GDPR). After hearing the opinion of the European Data Protection Board, the representatives of the member states must then confirm the draft in the so-called comitology procedure. This procedure is used when the EC is given the power to implement legal acts that lay down conditions for the uniform application of a law. A series of procedures ensure that EU countries have a say in the implementing act. After the comitology procedure, the EC is free to adopt the drafts.

EU-UK Trade Deal in light of Data Protection

4. January 2021

Almost fit to be called a Christmas miracle, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) came to an agreement on December 24th, 2020. The Trade Agreement, called in full length “EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement“, is set out to define new rules from the date of the UK Exit from the EU, January 1st, 2021.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, claimed it was a deal worth fighting for, “because we now have a fair and balanced agreement with the UK, which will protect our European interests, ensure fair competition, and provide much needed predictability for our fishing communities. Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.

In light of Data Protection however, the new Trade Deal has not given much certainty of what is to come next.

Both sides are aware that an adequacy decision by the EU Commission is very important with regard to data protection and cross-border data flows. Accordingly, the EU has agreed to allow a period of four months, extendable by a further two months, during which data can be transferred between EU Member States and the UK without additional safeguards. This period was granted to give the Commission enough time to make an adequacy decision. Accordingly, data transfers can continue as before until possibly mid-2021. However, this arrangement is only valid if the UK does not change its data protection laws in the meantime.

With regard to direct marketing, the situation has not changed either: for individuals, active consent must be given unless there was a prior contractual relationship and the advertising relates to similar products as the prior contract. Furthermore, the advertising must also be precisely recognisable as such, and the possibility of revoking consent must be given in every advertising mail.

However, much else has yet to be clarified. Questions such as the competence of the UK Data Protection Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as the fate of its ongoing investigations, have not yet been answered. As of now, companies with their original EU Headquarters in the UK will have to designate a new Lead Supervisory Authority (Art. 56 GDPR) for their business in the EU.

The upcoming months will determine if questions with high relevance to businesses’ day to day practice will be able to be answered reassuringly.

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