Category: European Data Protection

Irish Data Protection Authority investigates Google’s processing of location data

6. February 2020

The irish data protection authorty (namely The Data Protection Commission (DPC)) is, in its role as Lead Supervisory Authority, responsible for Google within the European Union.

The DPC startet a formal investigation into Google’s practices to track its user’s location and the transparency surrounding that processing.

Following a number of complaints by serveral national consumer groups all across the EU, the investigation was initiated by the DPC.  Consumer organisations argue that the consent to “share” users’ location data was not freely given and consumers were tricked into accepting privacy-intrusive settings. Such practices are not compliant with the EU’s data protection law GDPR.

The irish data protection authority will now have to establish, whether Google has a valid legal basis for processing the location data of its users and whether it meets its obligations as a data controller with regard to transparency.

The investigation will add further pressure to Google. Google is facing a handful of investigations in Europe. The DPC has already opened an investigation into how Google handles data for advertising. That investigation is still ongoing. If Google is found not complying with the GDPR, the company could be forced to change its business model.

However, there are still a number of steps before the Irish DPC makes a decision including the opportunity for Google to reply.

Austrian Regional Court grants an Austrian man 800€ in GDPR compensation

20. December 2019

The Austrian Regional Court, Landesgericht Feldkirch, has ruled that the major Austrian postal service Österreichische Post (ÖPAG) has to pay an Austrian man 800 Euros in compensation because of violating the GDPR (LG Feldkirch, Beschl. v. 07.08.2019 – Az.: 57 Cg 30/19b – 15). It is one of the first rulings in Europe in which a civil court granted a data subject compensation based on a GDPR violation. Parallel to this court ruling, ÖPAG is facing an 18 Mio Euro fine from the Austrian Data Protection Authorities.

Based on people’s statements in anonymised surveys, ÖPAG had created marketing groups and used algorithms to calculate the probability of the political affinities that people with certain socioeconomic and regional backgrounds might have. ÖPAG then ascribed customers to these marketing groups and thus also stored data about their calculated political affinities. Among these customers was the plaintiff of this case.

The court ruled that this combination is “personal data revealing political opinions” according to Art. 9 GDPR. Since ÖPAG neither obtained the plaintiff’s consent to process his sensitive data on political opinions nor informed him about the processing itself, ÖPAG violated the plaintiff’s individual rights.

While the plaintiff demanded 2.500 Euros in compensation from ÖPAG, the court granted the plaintiff only a non-material damage compensation of 800 Euros after weighing up the circumstances of the individual case.

The case was appealed and will be tried at the Higher Regional Court Innsbruck.

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.

Irish DPC updates Guidance on Data Processing’s Legal Bases

17. December 2019

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has updated their guidance on the legal bases for personal data processing. It focuses on data processing under the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as data processing requirements under the European Law Enforcement Directive.

The main points of the updates to the guidance are to make companies more sensitive of their reasons for processing personal data and choosing the right legal basis, as well as ensure that data subjects may be able to figure out if their data is being processed lawfully.

The guidance focuses on the different legal bases in Art.6 GDPR, namely consent, contracts, legal obligation, vital interests, public task or legitimate interests. The Irish DPC states that controllers do not only have to choose the right legal basis, but they also have to understand the obligations that come with the chosen one, which is why they wanted to go into further detail.

Overall, the guidance is made to aid both controllers and data subjects. It consists of a way to support a better understanding of the terminology, as well as the legal requirements the GDPR sets out for processing personal data.

Berlin commissioner for data protection imposes fine on real estate company

6. November 2019

On October 30th, 2019, the Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information issued a fine of around 14.5 million euros against the real estate company Deutsche Wohnen SE for violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

During on-site inspections in June 2017 and March 2019, the supervisory authority determined that the company used an archive system for the storage of personal data of tenants that did not provide for the possibility of removing data that was no longer required. Personal data of tenants were stored without checking whether storage was permissible or even necessary. In individual cases, private data of the tenants concerned could therefore be viewed, even though some of them were years old and no longer served the purpose of their original survey. This involved data on the personal and financial circumstances of tenants, such as salary statements, self-disclosure forms, extracts from employment and training contracts, tax, social security and health insurance data and bank statements.

After the commissioner had made the urgent recommendation to change the archive system in the first test date of 2017, the company was unable to demonstrate either a cleansing of its database nor legal reasons for the continued storage in March 2019, more than one and a half years after the first test date and nine months after the GDPR came into force. Although the enterprise had made preparations for the removal of the found grievances, nevertheless these measures did not lead to a legal state with the storage of personal data. Therefore the imposition of a fine was compelling because of a violation of article 25 Abs. 1 GDPR as well as article 5 GDPR for the period between May 2018 and March 2019.

The starting point for the calculation of fines is, among other things, the previous year’s worldwide sales of the affected companies. According to its annual report for 2018, the annual turnover of Deutsche Wohnen SE exceeded one billion euros. For this reason, the legally prescribed framework for the assessment of fines for the established data protection violation amounted to approximately 28 million euros.

For the concrete determination of the amount of the fine, the commissioner used the legal criteria, taking into account all burdening and relieving aspects. The fact that Deutsche Wohnen SE had deliberately set up the archive structure in question and that the data concerned had been processed in an inadmissible manner over a long period of time had a particularly negative effect. However, the fact that the company had taken initial measures to remedy the illegal situation and had cooperated well with the supervisory authority in formal terms was taken into account as a mitigating factor. Also with regard to the fact that the company was not able to prove any abusive access to the data stored, a fine in the middle range of the prescribed fine framework was appropriate.

In addition to sanctioning this violation, the commissioner imposed further fines of between 6,000 and 17,000 euros on the company for the inadmissible storage of personal data of tenants in 15 specific individual cases.

The decision on the fine has not yet become final. Deutsche Wohnen SE can lodge an appeal against this decision.

 The Netherlands passed new law on the use of passenger data

31. October 2019

In June 2019 the Netherlands adopted a new law concerning the processing and sharing of passenger data by airlines. Since the 18 June 2019, airlines are now required to share passenger data with a newly established passenger information unit  (‘Pi-NL’) for all flights that depart from the Netherlands or arrive in the Netherlands. The passenger data to be passed on include, for example nationality, full name, date of birth, number and type of travel documents used.

The new established specialised unit will be independent with its own statustory task and authorisations and will collect,process and analyse passenger data and share it with the competent authorities such as the police, Public Prosecution and with comparable units in other Member States oft he EU and with Europol, if necessary. It falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice and Security. The purpose of such data processing is to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorist offences and serious criminal offences.

This law implements the European PNR (Passenger Name Record) directive in Dutch law. The aim of the PNR directive is to ensure internal security within the European Union and to protect the life and safety of persons. It will also promote more effective cooperation between EU Member States.

In drafting this law, the Dutch gorvernment weighed the importance of combating terrorism against the privacy interests of passengers.  Therefore the newly introduced law also contains a number of data protection safeguards and guarantees, such as a limitation on the retention period, a processing prohibition on special categories of personal data and strict conditions for the exchange of such data with other states and the requirement that the Pi-NL appoint a data protection officer.

Google data breach notification sent to IDPC

18. July 2019

Google may face further investigations under the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR), after unauthorized audio recordings have been forwarded to subcontractors. The Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) has confirmed through a spokesperson that they have received a data breach notification concerning the issue last week.

The recordings were exposed by the Belgian broadcast VRT, said to affect 1000 clips of conversations in the region of Belgium and the Netherlands. Being logged by Google Assistant, the recordings were then sent to Google’s subcontractors for review. At least 153 of those recordings were not authorized by Google’s wake phrase “Ok/Hey, Google,” and were never meant to be recorded in the first place. They contained personal data reaching from family conversations over bedroom chatter to business calls with confidential information.

Google has addressed this violation of their data security policies in a blog post. It said that the audio recordings were sent to experts, who understand nuances and accents, in order to refine Home’s linguistic abilities, which is a critical part in the process of building speech technology. Google stresses that the storing of recorded data on its services is turned off by default, and only sends audio data to Google once its wake phrase is said. The recordings in question were most likely initiated by the users saying a phrase that sounded similar to “Ok/Hey, Google,” therefore confusing Google Assistant and turning it on.

According to Google’s statement, Security and Privacy teams are working on the issue and will fully review its safeguards to prevent this sort of misconduct from happening again. If, however, following investigations by the IDPC discover a GDPR violation on the matter, it could result in significant financial penalty for the tech giant.

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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