Category: European Data Protection

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.

Spanish DPA imposes fine on Spanish football league

13. June 2019

The Spanish data protection authority Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) has imposed a fine of 250.000 EUR on the organisers of the two Spanish professional football leagues for data protection infringements.

The organisers, Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional (LFP), operate an app called “La Liga”, which aims to uncover unlicensed performances of games broadcasted on pay-TV. For this purpose, the app has recorded a sample of the ambient sounds during the game times to detect any live game transmissions and combined this with the location data. Privacy-ticker already reported.

AEPD criticized that the intended purpose of the collected data had not been made transparent enough, as it is necessary according to Art. 5 paragraph 1 GDPR. Users must approve the use explicitly and the authorization for the microphone access can also be revoked in the Android settings. However, AEPD is of the opinion that La Liga has to warn the user of each data processing by microphone again. In the resolution, the AEPD points out that the nature of the mobile devices makes it impossible for the user to remember what he agreed to each time he used the La Liga application and what he did not agree to.

Furthermore, AEPD is of the opinion that La Liga has violated Art. 7 paragraph 3 GDPR, according to which the user has the possibility to revoke his consent to the use of his personal data at any time.

La Liga rejects the sanction because of injustice and will proceed against it. It argues that the AEPD has not made the necessary efforts to understand how the technology works. They explain that the technology used is designed to produce only one particular acoustic fingerprint. This fingerprint contains only 0.75% of the information. The remaining 99.25% is discarded, making it technically impossible to interpret human voices or conversations. This fingerprint is also converted into an alphanumeric code (hash) that is not reversible to the original sound. Nevertheless, the operators of the app have announced that they will remove the controversial feature as of June 30.

Belgian DPA imposes first fine since GDPR

11. June 2019

On 28 May 2019, the Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) imposed the first fine since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force. The Belgian DPA fined a Belgian mayor 2.000 EUR for abusing use of personal data.

The Belgian DPA received a complaint from the data subjects alleging that their personal data collected for local administrative purposes had been further used by the mayor for election campaign purposes. The parties were then heard by the Litigation Chamber of the Belgian DPA. Finally, the Belgian DPA ruled that the mayor’s use of the plaintiff’s personal data violated the purpose limitation principle of the GDPR, since the personal data was originally collected for a different purpose and was incompatible with the purpose for which the mayor used the data.

In deciding on the amount of the fine, the Belgian DPA took into account the limited number of data subjects, the nature, gravity and duration of the infringement, resulting in a moderate sum of 2.000 EUR. Nevertheless, the decision conveys the message that compliance with the GDPR is the responsibility of each data controller, including public officials.

Royal family uses GDPR to protect their privacy

22. May 2019

Last week Prince Harry and Meghan Markle could claim another victory in the royal family’s never ending struggle with paparazzi photographers, securing “a substantial sum” in damages from an agency that released intimate photos of the Oxfordshire home the Duke and Duchess of Sussex rented to the media. In a statement, Splash News apologized for and acknowledged that this situation would represent “an error of judgement”.

The paparazzi agency “Splash News” took photos and footage of the couple’s former Cotswolds home — including their living room, dining area, and bedroom — using a helicopter and promptly sold to different news outlets. The lawyers of Prince Harry argued that this situation caused a breach of his right to privacy according to Art. 7 and 8 ECHR as well as a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA).

Considering the strategy of the Duke’s lawyers, it looks like the royal family have found a potentially attractive alternative to claims of defamation of invasion of privacy. Since in contrast to such a claim, a claimant relying on data protection law neither needs to prove that a statement is at least defamatory and met the threshold for serious harm to reputation nor that the information is private.

However, the (new) European data protection legislation grants all data subjects, regardless of their position and/or fame, a right of respect for their privacy and family lives and protection of their personal data. In particular, the GDPR requires organisations, according to its Article 5, to handle personal data (such as names, pictures and stories relating to them) fairly and in a transparent manner while also using it for a legitimate purpose.

Moreover, when obtaining pictures and footage of an individual’s private or even the intimite sphere, the organization using such materials need a specific reason like some kind of contract, the individual’s consent or be able to argue that using this photos and footage was “in the public interest” or for a “legitimate interest”. As a contract and a consent can be excluded here, the only basis that might be considerd could be a public interest or a legitimate interest of the organization itself. Taking into account the means and the way how these photos and footage of the Duke and Dutchess were created, both of these interest cannot withstand the interest  in protecting the rights and freedom of individuals’ private and intimite sphere.

Referring to this case, it seems pretty likely that the European data protection regime changed the way in how celebrities and the courts enforce the heavy-contested threshold of whether the public is allowed to see and be informed about certain parts and aspects of famous people’s lives or not.

 

 

Public availability of house images using a Google Street View raises legal concerns.

21. May 2019

In recent years, the science of data analytics has dramatically improved the ability to analyse raw data and to make conclusions about that information. Data analytics techniques can reveal trends and patterns that can be used to optimize processes to increase the overall efficiency of a business or system. However, there is an obvious contradiction between the security and privacy of big data and the widespread use of big data.
Google Street View is a quite popular Google service used by millions of people every day to plan trips, explore touristic destinations and more.
In 2017, two university researchers Łukasz Kidziński, Stanford University in California, and Kinga Kita-Wojciechowska,University of Warsaw in Poland, have used Street View images of people’s houses to determine how likely they are to be involved in a car accident.
The researchers worked with an unknown insurance company and analysed 20.000 random addresses of the insurance company clients who had taken out car insurance. They collected information from the insurance company’s database, like age, sex, zip code, claim history and linked that information with Street View images correlated with the policyholder’s residential area. It turned out that a policyholder’s residence is a surprisingly good predictor of the likelihood that he/she will get involved in a car accident.
Subsequently, researchers put those results into a data analytics algorithm, which improved its predictive power by 2%. They also noted that the accuracy of the algorithm could be further improved using larger data sets and data analysis.
The insurance companies rely on data to predict risk and the results of the research are from this perspective impressive, but they are also disturbing. The new utilization of the technology is an important step towards improving risk prediction models. However, having in mind the results of the research, some interesting questions regarding data protection come up: Did the policyholders give their consent to this activity? Could the insurance company use individuals’ data this way given Europe’s strict privacy legislation? “The consent given by the clients to the company to store their addresses does not necessarily mean a consent to store information about the appearance of their houses,” said by Kidziński and Kita-Wojciechowska.”
Studies such as these raise datat protection questions about thepower of data analysis and how the information is collected and shared.

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