Category: European Data Protection

Poland: Addresses of judges, politicians and pro-life activists published on Twitter

12. November 2020

In recent days, social networks in Poland have teemed with posts containing private addresses and telephone numbers of judges of the Constitutional Tribunal, politicians and activists openly supporting the abortion sentence. In conjunction with the publication of the above on Twitter, the President of the Personal Data Protection Office (UODO) took immediate steps to protect the personal data and privacy of these persons.

Background to this was the judgement of the Constitutional Tribunal repealing the provisions allowing abortion in cases of, for example, serious genetic defects or severe impairment of the human fetus. This provoked resistance from a part of Polish society and led to a street revolution of “liberal” men and women. Unfortunately, the agitation turned into invectives, destruction of property, public disorder and personal arguments. As a result, personal data of people supporting the prohibition of abortion have been shared thousands of times on all social media too. For this reason, numerous protesters appeared at the indicated houses, covered the walls of the surrounding buildings with vulgar inscriptions, and the addressees began to receive packages, e.g. with a set of hangers.

On October 29th, 2020 the President of the UODO responded to the case:

Publishing private addresses and contact details of pro-life activists, politicians and judges by users of the Twitter social network is an action leading to the disclosure of a wide sphere of privacy, and thus posing threats to health and life, such as possible acts of violence and aggression directed against these people and their family members.

The announcement stated that the President of the UODO requested an immediate procedure by the Irish supervisory authority, which is responsible for the processing of personal data via Twitter. Pointing out the enormous scale of threats, he indicated the need to verify the response time to reported irregularities and the possibility of introducing automated solutions to prevent the rapid furtherance of such content by other portal users. He also notified the law enforcement authorities that Twitter users had committed a crime consisting in the processing of personal data without a legal basis. The lawfulness had neither been guaranteed by consent according to Art. 6 (1) lit. a GDPR nor legitimate interests pursuant to Art. 6 (1) lit. f GDPR or any other legal basis. Thus, the processing has to be seen as illegitimate as also stated by the President of the UODO. The law enforcement authorities will be obliged to examine and document both the scope of personal data disclosed in a way that violates the principles of personal data protection and to determine the group of entities responsible for unlawful data processing. The President of the UODO also applied to the Minister of Justice – Public Prosecutor General for placing this case under special supervision due to the escalation of conflict and aggression, which pose a high risk of violating the life interests of both people whose data is published on social media and their family members.

In conclusion, the President of the UODO added:

The intensification of actions of all competent authorities in this matter is necessary due to the unprecedented nature of the violations and the alarming announcements of disclosing the data of more people, as well as the deepening wave of aggression.

The CCPA is not enough: Californians will vote on the CPRA

28. October 2020

On 3 November 2020, the day of the US Presidential Election, Californian citizens will also be able to vote on the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (“CPRA”) in a state ballot. The CPRA shall expand Califonian consumers’ privacy rights given by the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”) which only came into effect on 2 January 2020.

The NGO “Californians for Consumer Privacy”, led by privacy activist Alastair Mactaggart, initiated the upcoming state ballot on the CPRA. Mactaggart’s NGO already qualified for a state ballot on the adoption of the CCPA by collecting over 629,000 signatures of California citizens in 2018. However, the NGO dropped the proposal in 2018 after California state legislators persuaded the intitiators that they will pass the CCPA through the legislative process. But because several significant amendments to the original proposal were passed during the legislative process, the NGO created the new CPRA initiative in 2020. This time, the group submitted more than 900,000 signatures. The CPRA is supposed to expand on the provisions of the CCPA. In case the CPRA is approved by California voters on November 3rd, it could not be easily amended and would require further direct voter action. Most provisions of the CPRA would become effective on 1 January 2023 and would only apply to information collected from 1 January 2022.

Some of the key provisions of the newly proposed CPRA seem to draw inspiration from the provisions of the European General Data Protection Regulations (“GDPR”) and include the establishment of an enforcement agency (the “California Privacy Protections Agency”), explicitly protecting “Sensitive Personal Information” of consumers and granting the right to rectify inaccurate personal information. The CPRA would furthermore require businesses to abide to information obligations comparable to those required by Art. 12-14 GDPR.

As the day of the state ballot is fast approaching, recent polls suggest that the CPRA will likely pass and complement the already existing CCPA, forming the US’ strictest privacy rules to date.

EDPB addresses Privacy by Design and Default in 40th Plenary Session

26. October 2020

Following public consultation, the Europan Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted a final version of the Guidelines on Data Protection by Design & Default during its 40th plenary session on October 20th, 2020.

The Guidelines’ focal point is the obligation of Data Protection by Design and by Default as set forth in Article 25 GDPR. At its core is the effective implementation of the data protection principles and data subjects’ rights and freedoms by design and by default, which means that controllers are obliged to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures as well as the necessary safeguards, designed to establish data protection principles in practice and to protect the rights and freedoms of data subjects while processing their personal data.

The Guidelines further contain guidance on how to effectively implement the data protection principles in Article 5 GDPR, listing key design and default points, as well as giving examples through practical cases. They also provide recommendations for controllers on how to achieve Privacy by Design and Default.

However, this is not the only decision made by the EDPB during the plenary. The EDPB decided to set up a Coordinated Enforcement Framework (CEF), which provides a structure for coordinating recurring annual activities by EDPB Supervisory Authorities. The objective is to coordinate joint activities, which may range from joint awareness raising and information gathering to enforcement sweeps and joint investigations.

The EDPB hopes that this raises awareness, as well as give data subjects more confidence to excercise their rights under the GDPR.

Decision to fine the Norwegian Public Roads Administration

23. October 2020

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority (Datatilsynet) has issued the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens vegvesen) a fine of EUR 37.400 (NOK 400.000) for improprieties related to the use of the monitoring system installed on toll ways in Norway. They concerned processing personal data for purposes that were noncompliant with the originally stated and for not erasing video recordings after 7 days from their registration.

The penalized entity is the controller of a system processing personal data obtained from the area of ​​toll roads in Norway. This system records personal data which especially enable the identification of vehicles (and hence their owners) that pass through public toll stations. The primary purpose of processing these personal data was to ensure safety on public roads and to optimize the operation of the tunnel and drawbridges in the county Østfold. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration however, used the recordings particularly in order to document improper fulfilments of concluded contracts by certain subjects. According to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, such procedure is unlawful and not compliant with the originally stated purposes.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration was also accused of infringements related to deletion of personal data in due time. In accordance with Norwegian regulations, recordings from monitoring (and thus personal data) may be stored until the reason for its storage ceases, but no longer than 7 days from recording the material. In the course of proceedings it turned out that the monitoring system did not have the function of deleting personal data at all. Therefore, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration was not able to fulfil its obligation according to Art. 17 GDPR. The lack of this functionality additionally indicates that the controller, while implementing the monitoring system, also omitted the requirements specified in Art. 25 GDPR.

Taking into account these circumstances, the Norwegian Data Protection Authority stated a violation of the mentioned GDPR regulations.

Appeal against record fine for GDPR violation in Poland dismissed

22. October 2020

On 10th September 2019 the Polish Data Protection Commissioner imposed a record fine in the amount of more than PLN 2,8 million or the equivalent of € 660.000 on the company Morele.net for violating the implementation of appropriate technical and organisational measures as well as the lack of verifiability of the prior consents to data processing. The Krakow-based company runs various online shops and stores customer data on a central database. According to the Personal Data Protection Office (UODO), there has been 2,2 million customers affected.

Starting point were especially two incidents at the end of 2018, when unauthorised persons got access to the customer database of the company and the contained personal data. The company notified the data breach to the UODO, which accused it particularly of violation of the confidentiality principle (Articles 5 (1) lit. f, 24 (1), 25 (1), 32 (1) lit. b, d, (2) GDPR) by failing to use sufficient technical and organisational measures to safeguard the data of its customers, such as a two-factor authentication. As claimed by the UODO, the selection of the authentication mechanism should always be preceded by an adequate risk analysis with a corresponding determination of protection requirements. The company did not adequately comply with this. However, it should have been sufficiently aware of the phishing risks as the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT Polska) had already pointed it out.

In addition, the UODO accused the company of violation of the lawfulness, fairness, transparency and accountability principles (Articles 5 (1) lit. a, (2), 6 (1), 7 (1) GDPR) by not being able to prove that (where necessary) the personal data from installment applications had been processed on the basis of consents of data subjects. Furthermore, after a risk analysis, the company deleted the corresponding data from the database in December 2018, but according to the UODO, the deletion was not sufficiently documented.

When assessing the fine, there were many aspects which played a decisive role. Most of all, the extent of the violation (2,2 million customers) and the fact that the company processes personal data professionally in the course of its business activities and therefore has to apply a higher level of security. However, mitigating circumstances were also taken into account, such as the good cooperation with the supervisory authority, no previous ascertainable violations of the GDPR and no identifiable financial advantages for the company.

On 3rd September 2020, the Provincial Administrative Court (WSA) in Warsaw issued a judgment on Morele.net’s appeal against the decision. The WSA dismissed the appeal and considered that the decision on the fine imposed on the company was justified. Furthermore, the WSA stated that the UODO had correctly assessed the facts in the case concerned and considered that the fine imposed was high but within the limits of the law and justified by circumstances. It is expected that the company will lodge a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland.

Swiss Data Protection Commissioner: “Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield not providing adequate level of Data Protection”

28. September 2020

Following the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) the Swiss Data Protection Commissioner (“EDÖB”) published a statement concerning the level of Data Protection of Data Transfers under the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield. The “Schrems II” decision by the CJEU is not legally binding in the Switzerland because Switzerland is neither a EU nor a EEA country. But as the EDÖB and the Joint European Data Protection Authorities work closely together, the decision has first implications for Swiss data exporters.

In accordance with Swiss Data Protection law (Art. 7 VDSG), the Swiss Data Protection Commissioner maintains a publicly accessible list of countries assessing the level of Data Protection guaranteed by these countries. This list shall serve Swiss data exporters as a guidance for their data exporting activities and acts as a rebuttable presumption. EU and EEA countries have continuously been listed in the first column of the list because they are regarded to provide an adequate level of Data Protection. The U.S. has been listed in the second column as a country providing “adequate protection under certain conditions”, which meant a certification of U.S. data importers under the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield.

Subsequent to the CJEU ruling, the EDÖB decided to list the U.S. in the third column as a country providing “inadequate protection”, thereby also acting on his past annual reviews of the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield. In his reviews, the EDÖB already criticised that data subjects in Switzerland lack access to the courts in the U.S. on account of Data Protection violations and that the Ombudsman-mechanism is ineffective in this regard.

Lastly, the EDÖB pointed out that the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield remains in effect since there has not been a decision by Swiss courts comparable to the CJEU decision and that his assessment has the status of a recommendation. However, the EDÖB advises Swiss data exporters to always make a risk assessment when transferring Personal Data to countries with “inadequate protection” and possibly to apply technical measures (e.g. BYOK encryption) in order to protect the data from access by foreign intelligence services.

EU looking to increase Enforcement Powers over Tech Giants

24. September 2020

In an interview with The Financial Times on Sunday, EU-Commissioner Thierry Breton stated that the European Union is considering plans to increase its enforcement powers regarding tech giants.

This empowerment is supposed to include punitive measures such as forcing tech firms to break off and sell their EU operations if the dominance on the market becomes too large. It is further considered to enable the EU to be able to boot tech companies from the EU single market entirely. Breton stated these measures would of course only be used in extreme circumstances, but did not elaborate on what would qualify as extreme.

“There is a feeling from end-users of these platforms that they are too big to care,” Thierry Breton told The Financial Times. In the interview, he compared tech giants’ market power to the big banks before the financial crisis. “We need better supervision for these big platforms, as we had again in the banking system,” he stated.

In addition, the European Union is considering a rating system, in which companies would be given scores in different categories such as tax compliance, taking action against illegal content, etc. However, Breton said that it is not the intend to make companies liable for their users’ content.

Breton further said that the first drafts of the new law will be ready by the end of the year.

Once the final draft is in place, it will require approval both by the European Parliament as well as the European Council, before it can be enacted.

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.

Irish DPC to assess TikTok’s plans for opening Data Centre in Ireland

13. August 2020

The short video app TikTok is planning to establish a data centre in Ireland under the One Stop Shop (OSS) data processing mechanism, the Irish Data Commission has stated.

However, the company needs to first be assessed to determine if they meet the requirements of the OSS.

The OSS rules, introduced under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) rules, mean companies can make the Irish Data Protection Commission the lead supervisory authority, if they meet the criteria, and would not have to deal with regulators in each of the 28 EU member states but could be monitored by a lead regulator in one state. This would benefit the company in the case that if something happens, it would be one investigation, one decision and one appeal, rather than one for each country affected.

These plans come at a time when the popular app is facing some criticism, however. Not only is TikTok on the verge of being banned in the United States, a lot of doubts in regard to their handling of user data have surfaced in the past few months.

Last week in Beijing, the Beijing Internet Court ruled against TikTok’s owner Tencent Holdings in cases alleging the misuse of user data. The data was shared without consent between the WeRead and WeChat apps, violating the users’ privacy.

The move to establish a data centre in Ireland “will create hundreds of new jobs and play a key role in further strengthening the safeguarding and protection of TikTok user data with a state of the art physical and network security defense system planned around this new operation,“ stated Global Chief Information Security Officer of the company, Roland Cloutier.

Following the moves of big tech giants of recent years, TikTok plans to open the data centre by the year 2022. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner stated that the examination for the OSS mechanism is currently underway.

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.
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