Category: European Court of Justice

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.

Advocate General: No Valid Cookie Consent When Checkbox Is Pre-ticked

25. March 2019

On 21 of March Maciej Szpunar, Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, delivered his Opinion in the case of Planet24 GmbH against Bundesverband Verbraucherzentralen und Vebraucherverbände – Verbaucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. (Federal Association of Consumer Organisations). In the Opinion, Szpunar explains how to obtain valid consent for the use of cookies.

In the case in question, Planet24 GmbH has organised a lottery campaign on the internet. When registering to participate in the action lottery, two checkboxes appeared. The first checkbox, which did not contain a pre-selected tick, concerned permission for sponsors and cooperation partners to contact the participant in order to inform him of their offers. The second checkbox, which was already ticked off, concerned the consent to the setting of cookies, which evaluate the user’s surfing and usage behaviour.

The Federal Association held that the clauses used infringed german law, in particular Article 307 of the BGB, Article 7(2), point 2, of the UWG and Article 12 et seq. of the TMG and filed a lawsuit in 2014 after an unsuccessful warning.

In the course of the instances, the case ended up at the German Federal Supreme Court in 2017. The German Federal Court considers that the success of the case depends on the interpretation of Articles 5(3) and 2(f) of Directive 2002/58, read in conjunction with Article 2(h) of Directive 95/46, and of Article 6(1)(a) of Regulation 2016/679. For that reason, it asked the European Court of Justice the following questions for a preliminary ruling:

(1) Does consent given on the basis of a pre-ticked box meet the requirements for valid consent under the ePrivacy Directive, the EU Data Protection Directive and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (the GDPR)?

(2) What information does the service provider have to provide to the user and does this include the duration of the use of cookies and whether third parties have access to the cookies?

According to the Advocate General, there is no valid consent if the checkbox is already ticked. In such case, the user must remove the tick, i.e. become active if he/she does not agree to the use of cookies. However, this would contradict the requirement of an active act of consent by the user. It is necessary for the user to explicitly consent to the use of cookies. Therefore, it is also not sufficient if one checkbox is used to deal with both the use of cookies and participation in the action lottery. Consent must be given separately. Otherwise the user is not in the position to freely give a separate consent.

In addition, Szpunar explains that the user must be provided with clear and comprehensive information that enables the user to easily assess the consequences of his consent. This requires that the information provided is unambiguous and cannot be interpreted. For this purpose, the information must contain details such as the duration of the operation of cookies, as well as whether third parties have access to the cookies.

The EEA EFTA States incorporate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) soon

9. July 2018

On 20th of July 2018 the European Data Law will come into effect also in the three EFTA States (Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein). This has been the result of the incorporation Agreement by the EEA Joint Committee in Brussels on July 6th 2018.

Before the GDPR becomes applicable throughout all three states, each of the states shall notify the agreement by a parliamentary process.

As usual for the EEA Joint Agreements, the EFTA States are obligated to implement the EU Regulation and they are affected by the Jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The supervisory authority of the EFTA States also participates in the activities of the European Data Protection Board, without having the right to vote and to stand for election as chair or deputy chairs of the board.

Switzerland is not part of this agreement and has its own legal basis for data protection.

WP29 releases opinion on joint review of Privacy Shield

11. December 2017

The Working Party 29 (WP29),  an independent European advisory body on data protection and privacy, has evaluated the Privacy Shield agreement  (framework for transatlantic exchanges of personal data for commercial purposes between the European Union and the United States, see also our report on One year of Privacy Shield).

In its joint review, the WP29 focusses on the assessment of commercial aspects and governmental access to personal data for national security purposes.

Though acknowledging progress, the WP29 still finds unresolved issues on both sides.

It criticizes the lack of guidance and clear information on the principles of the Privacy Shield, especially with regards to onward transfers, the rights of the data subject and remedies.

The US authorities are further requested to clearly distinguish the status of data processors from that of data controllers.

Another important issue to be tackled is the handling of Human Resource (HR)  data and the rules governing automated-decision making and profiling.

Also, the process of self-certification for companies requires improvement.

In terms of access by public authorities, the WP 29 concludes that the US government has made effort to become more transparent.

However, some of the main concerns still are to be resolved by May 25th, 2018.

The WP 29 calls for further evidence or legally binding commitments to confirm non-discrimination and the fact that authorities don’t get access on a generalized basis to data transferred to the USA from the EU.

Aside from these matters, an Ombudsperson still needs to be appointed and her/his exact powers need to be specified. According to the WP 29, the existing powers to remedy non-compliance are not sufficient.

In case no remedy is brought to these concerns in the given time frames, the members of WP29 will take appropriate action, including bringing the Privacy Shield Adequacy decision to national courts for them to make a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for a preliminary ruling.

Dynamic IP-addresses are personal data

19. May 2017

The German Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) decided, that dynamic IP-addresses are personal data. Also the BGH decides, that website operators are allowed to store the IP-address.

The judgement precedes on a decision of the European Court of Justice (EuGH) from the last year.

The EuGH decides, that a dynamic IP-address is a personal data, when the person concerned can be identified by means of the IP-address.

A German politician worried about the storing of his IP-address, because different federal institutes and authorities stored unasked his IP-address after he visited their websites. He fears, that the institutes and authorities are able to understand what he read and clicked on in the past times. Therefore his fundamental right on informational self-determination is infringed. He wants the court to decide, that his IP-address can be stored during his visit but not above.

The BGH now established, that the dynamic IP-address is personal data and the fundamental rights of the users should not be infringed, but websites are allowed to invest protocols of the surfers who visited their website, after the visitation, but only on the premise of emergency response. Especially in cases of hacker attacks. A criminal prosecution must be possible. The legal foundation is § 15 Telemediengesetz (TMG). § 15 I TMG must be interpreted compliant to the European law. Collection and processing of personal data must be required for the functionality of the service.

It is good to know that the website operator has no possibility of identifying the user by means of his IP-address, only the internet provider is able to identify the user by means of the IP-address, because the provider allocates the IP-address to the user.

European Union’s justice commissioner Jourová threatens to suspend Privacy Shield

6. March 2017

Vera Jourová, the European Union’s justice commissioner, is willing to suspend Privacy Shield in case the Trump administration budges from the result of the negotiation between the Obama administration and the European Union.

The Privacy Shield pact was meant to replace the Safe Harbor decision of the European Commission that was overturned in October 2015 by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The pact’s purpose is to enable the transfer of EU citizens’ personal data to the US while ensuring the protection of those data.

Concerns about the effectiveness of the Privacy Shield came up as President Trump passed an executive order in January 2017 saying “agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.”

Although the US Department of Justice already affirmed the US’s commitment to the Privacy Shield, Jourová stays sceptical and wants to keep an eye on the US government’s stance. In case EU citizens’ personal data are not safe in the US Jourová will not hesitate to suspend the pact.

EU-U.S. Privacy Shield is being challenged

28. October 2016

As the website of the European Court of Justice just released, is the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield being challenged by Digital Rights Ireland, an Irish privacy advocacy group.

The facts of this case (Digital Rights Ireland v Commission; Case T-670/16) are as follows:

  • Digital Rights Ireland has filed an action for annulment against the European Commission’s adequacy decision on the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.
  • There has been no comment from Digital Rights Ireland yet.
  • No documents have been published with regard to the case so far.
  • However, as HuntonPrivacyBlog reported “(…) media sources quote a spokesperson for the European Commission acknowledging the case and stressing the European Commission’s conviction that the Privacy Shield meets all legal requirements.”

European Court of Justice defines personal data

20. October 2016

The European Court of Justice clarified the definition and the scope of personal data.

The original case, known as the Breyer case, concerned the issue whether dynamic IP addresses are personal data within the meaning of Article 2(a) of Directive 95/46/EC. The European Court of Justice now ruled that IP addresses can be seen as personal data although the information may have to be sought from third parties in order to identify the data subjects.

In detail, the European Court of Justice concludes:

  • According to the approach adopted by the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice), a dynamic IP address is not sufficient, in itself, to identify the user who has accessed a web page through it. If the provider of a service on the Internet could, on the contrary, identify the user through the dynamic IP address, it would, no doubt, be personal data within the meaning of Directive 95/46.
  • The heart of the question referred is therefore concerned with whether it is relevant, in order to classify dynamic IP addresses as personal data, that a very specific third party — the Internet access service provider — has additional data which, combined with those addresses, may identify a user who has visited a particular web page.
  • Therefore, as a first conclusion, I consider that Article 2(a) of Directive 95/46 must be interpreted as meaning that an IP address stored by a service provider in connection with access to its web page constitutes personal data for that service provider, insofar as an Internet service provider has available additional data which make it possible to identify the data subject.

Therefore, the question which is raised due to this ruling is: Will this defintion stand once the GDPR comes into force in 2018?

However, it is highly probable that from now on it will be more difficult for organizations to pseudonymize or anonymize personal data.

No liability for free Wifi providers

16. September 2016

The European Court of Justice decided that free Wifi providers are not liable for illegal downloads.

The decision is based on a case between Sony and a German shop owner. Sony sued the German shop owner due to the fact that an internet user unlawfully offered music downloads by using the shop’s free Wifi. Although the case originated in Munich, the judges referred the issue to the European Court of Justice.

The European Court of Justice then found that free Wifi is provided by companies in order to attract potential customers. Therefore, they cannot be held liable for illegal acts committed by others using this respective internet network.

Furthermore, Sony can not claim compensation or seek reimbursement for its court costs.

Nevertheless, the European Court of Justice ruled that Sony could demand internet connections to be password protected, so that a user is required to identify himself before accessing the Wifi.

 

 

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