Category: EU-U.S. Privacy Shield

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.

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.

Advocate General’s opinion on “Schrems II” is delayed

11. December 2019

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) Advocate General’s opinion in the case C-311/18 (‘Facebook Ireland and Schrems’) will be released on December 19, 2019. Originally, the CJEU announced that the opinion of the Advocate General in this case, Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe, would be released on December 12, 2019. The CJEU did not provide a reason for this delay.

The prominent case deals with the complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) by privacy activist and lawyer Maximilian Schrems and the transfer of his personal data from Facebook Ireland Ltd. to Facebook Inc. in the U.S. under the European Commission’s controller-to-processor Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs).

Perhaps, the most consequential question that the High Court of Ireland set before the CJEU is whether the transfers of personal data from the EU to the U.S. under the SCCs violate the rights of the individuals under Articles 7 and/or 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Question No. 4). The decision of the CJEU in “Schrems II” will also have ramifications on the parallel case T-738/16 (‘La Quadrature du net and others’). The latter case poses the question whether the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield for data transfers from the EU to the U.S. protects the rights of EU individuals sufficiently. If it does not, the European Commission would face a “Safe Harbor”-déjà vu after approving of the new Privacy Shield in its adequacy decision from 2016.

The CJEU is not bound to the opinion of the Advocate General (AG), but in some cases, the AG’s opinion may be a weighty indicator of the CJEU’s final ruling. The final decision by the Court is expected in early 2020.

FTC reaches settlements with companies regarding Privacy Shield misrepresentations

10. December 2019

On December 3, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had reached settlements in four different cases of Privacy Shield misrepresentation. The FTC alleged that in particular Click Labs, Inc., Incentive Services, Inc., Global Data Vault, LLC, and TDARX, Inc. each falsely claimed to have participated in the framework agreements of the EU-US Privacy Shield. According to the FTC, Global Data and TDARX continued to claim participation in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield upon expiration of their Privacy Shield certifications. Click Labs and Incentive Services have also erroneously claimed to participate in the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework. In addition, Global Data and TDARX have violated the Privacy Shield Framework by failing to follow the annual review of whether statements about their privacy shield practices were accurate. Also, according to the complaints, they did not affirm that they would continue to apply Privacy Shield protection to personal information collected during participation in the program.

As part of the proposed settlements, each of the companies is prohibited from misrepresenting its participation in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework or any other privacy or data security program sponsored by any government or self-regulatory or standard-setting organization. In addition, Global Data Vault and TDARX are required to continue to apply Privacy Shield protection to personal information collected during participation in the program. Otherwise, they are required to return or delete such information.

The EU-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks allow companies to legally transfer personal data from the EU or Switzerland to the USA. Since the framework was established in 2016, the FTC has initiated a total of 21 enforcement measures in connection with the Privacy Shield.

A description of the consent agreements is published in the Federal Register and publicly commented on for 30 days. The FTC will then decide whether the proposed consent orders are final.

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.

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.

 

 

EU-US Privacy Shield and SCCs facing legal challenge before the EU High Courts

3. July 2019

Privacy Shield, established between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (US) as a replacement of the fallen Safe Harbor agreement, has been under scrutiny from the moment it entered into effect. Based on the original claims by Max Schrems in regards to Safe Harbor (C-362/14), the EU-US data transfer agreement has been challenged in two cases, one of which will be heard by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in early July.

In this case, as in 2015, Mr. Schrems bases his claims elementally on the same principles. The contention is the unrestricted access of US agencies to European’s personal data. Succeeding hearings in 2017, the Irish High Court found and raised 11 questions in regards to the adequacy of the level of protection to the CJEU. The hearing before the CJEU is scheduled for July 9th. The second case, originally planned to be heard on July 1st and 2nd, has been brought to the General Court of the European Union by the French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net in conjunction with the French Data Net and Fédération FDN. Their concerns revolve around the inadequacy of the level of protection given by the Privacy Shield and its mechanisms.
This hearing, however, has been cancelled by the General Court of the EU only days prior to its date, which was announced by La Quadrature du Net through tweet.

Despite the criticism of the agreement, the European Commission has noted improvements to the level of security of the Privacy Shield in their second review of the agreement dating from December 2018. The US Senate confirmed Keith Krach as Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, with his duties to include being the permanent ombudsman in regards to the Privacy Shield and the EU data protection, on June 20th 2019.

As it is, both cases are apt to worry companies that rely on being certified by the Privacy Shield or the use of SCCs. With the uncertainty that comes with these questions, DPOs will be looking for new ways to ensure the data flow between Europe and the US. The European Commission stated that it wants to make it easier for companies in the future to comply with data transfers under the GDPR. It plans to update the SCCs to the requirements of the GDPR, providing a contractual mechanism for international transfers. Nonetheless, it is unclear when those updates are happening, and they may be subject to legal challenge based on the future Schrems ruling.

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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