Category: European Union

Europol’s criticism of EDPS’ order limiting data collection practices

13. January 2022

Shortly after the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) had notified EU’s Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) of the order restricting data collection practices, the agency strongly objected. We have already reported on the decision setting a retention period of six months for all datasets submitted to the agency.

Europol is concerned that the order will harm investigations, as the agency typically needs to retain data for longer than six months to effectively fight against evils such as terrorism and child abuse. It was precisely the past practices that also enabled the EU arresting numerous of drug traffickers and suspected criminals.

EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, agreed with the concern, arguing that it would jeopardize criminal investigations if law enforcement agencies have to start disposing of the data they have collected. She stated that

the potential risk of the decision is huge. If a member state or national police cannot use Europol to help with the analysis of big data … then they will be blind because a lot of national police forces do not have the capacity to deal with this big data.

According to critical comment, law enforcement and security agencies should be given better access to citizens’ data. Johansson advocates this as well. Europol’s powers to process large datasets could soon be strengthened as part of a reform of its mandate. However, this intention also meets with criticism, as Chloé Berthélémy of the European Digital Rights NGO expresses:

The EDPS has taken a critical step today to finally end Europol’s unlawful processing of data … Unfortunately, the reform of Europol to be adopted soon … will reverse all these efforts as it is set to legalize the very same practices that undermine data protection and fair trial rights.

Europol ordered to delete data of individuals with no criminal link

12. January 2022

On January 3rd, 2022, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) notified the EU’s Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) of an order to delete data of individuals who have not been linked to a crime or a criminal activity. This decision, dated December 21st, 2021, marks the conclusion of EDPS’ investigation launched in 2019.

The own-initiative inquiry concerned Europol’s processing of personal data in large datasets for the purpose of strategic and operational analysis (referred to as Europol’s Big Data Challenge). The investigation revealed non-compliance with the data protection rules laid down in the Europol Regulation (ER), especially the principles of data minimization (Article 28 (1) (c) ER) and data retention (Article 28 (1) (e) ER).

Article 18 (2) (b), (c), (5) and Annex II. B. (1), (3) ER limit the categories of data subjects about whom Europol can process data for the aforementioned purposes to ‘suspects’, ‘potential future criminals’, ‘contacts and associates’, ‘victims’, ‘witnesses’ and ‘informants’. To meet this requirement, large datasets must undergo a process of filtering and extraction called Data Subject Categorization (DSC). Therefore, processing of datasets lacking the DSC should be limited to the shortest time necessary to materially proceed to such categorization. This is important to ensure that processing of data of persons, whose link to crimes has not been established, ceases as soon as possible. It is justified by the fact that in particular the continued storage poses a risk to fundamental rights of these individuals.

EDPS then admonished Europol and urged it to take all necessary and appropriate measures to mitigate the risks for individuals arising from such data processing activities. For this purpose, Europol was also advised to establish an action plan and inform EDPS thereof.

Although Europol has taken some action since then, it has not established an appropriate retention period for the datasets without DSC. As a consequence, the EDPS has decided to impose a retention period of 6 months for all datasets submitted to Europol by EU Member States as of January 4th, 2022, which should allow the filtering and extraction of the permitted personal data. Datasets that do not undergo DSC during this period must be deleted. The EDPS has also given Europol a period of 12 months to comply with the decision for the datasets previously received. Should this period elapse before the datasets undergo DSC, they must be deleted as well.

European Commission adopts South Korea Adequacy Decision

30. December 2021

On December 17th, 2021, the European Commission (Commission) announced in a statement it had adopted an adequacy decision for the transfer of personal data from the European Union (EU) to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

An adequacy decision is one of the instruments available under the GDPR to transfer personal data from the EU to third countries that ensure a comparable level of protection for personal data as the EU. It is a Commission decision under which personal data can flow freely and securely from the EU to the third country in question without any further conditions or authorizations being required. In other words, the transfer of data to the third country in question can be handled in the same way as the transfer of data within the EU.

This adequacy decision allows for the free flow of personal data between the EU and South Korea without the need for any further authorization or transfer instrument, and it also applies to the transfer of personal data between public sector bodies. It complements the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and South Korea, which entered into force in July 2011. The trade agreement has led to a significant increase in bilateral trade in goods and services and, inevitably, in the exchange of personal data.

Unlike the adequacy decision regarding the United Kingdom, this adequacy decision is not time-limited.

The Commission’s statement reads:

The adequacy decision will complement the EU – Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement with respect to personal data flows. As such, it shows that, in the digital era, promoting high privacy and personal data protection standards and facilitating international trade can go hand in hand.

In South Korea, the processing of personal data is governed by the Personal Information Portection Act (PIPA), which provides similar principles, safeguards, individual rights and obligations as the ones under EU law.

An important step in the adequacy talks was the reform of PIPA, which took effect in August 2020 and strengthened the investigative and enforcement powers of the Personal Information Protection Commission (PIPC), the independent data protection authority of South Korea. As part of the adequacy talks, both sides also agreed on several additional safeguards that will improve the protection of personal data processed in South Korea, such as transparency and onward transfers.

These safeguards provide stronger protections, for example, South Korean data importers will be required to inform Europeans about the processing of their data, and onward transfers to third countries must ensure that the data continue to enjoy the same level of protection. These regulations are binding and can be enforced by the PIPC and South Korean courts.

The Commission has also published a Q&A on the adequacy decision.

EU Advocate General : Member States may allow consumer protection associations to bring representative actions against infringements of the protection of personal data

16. December 2021

On December 2nd, EU Advocate General Richard de la Tour published an opinion in which he stated that EU member states may allow consumer protection associations to bring representative actions against infringements of rights that data subjects derive directly from the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). In doing so, he agrees with the legal opinion of the Federation of the Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen und Verbraucherverbände – Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. (Federation of German Consumer Organisations (“vzbv”)), which has filed an action for an injunction against Facebook in German courts for non-transparent use of data.

The lawsuit of the vzbv is specifically about third-party games that Facebook offers in its “App Center”. In order to play games like Scrabble within Facebook, users must consent to the use of their data. However, Facebook had not provided information about the use of the data in a precise, transparent and comprehensible manner, as required by Article 13 GDPR. The Federal Court of Justice in Germany (“Bundesgerichtshof”) already came to this conclusion in May 2020, but the Bundesgerichtshof considered it unclear whether associations such as the vzbv have the legal authority to bring data protection violations to court. It argues, inter alia, that it can be inferred from the fact that the GDPR grants supervisory authorities extended supervisory and investigatory powers, as well as the power to adopt remedial measures, that it is primarily the task of those authorities to monitor the application of the provisions of the Regulation. The Bundesgerichtshof therefore asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) to interpret the GDPR. The Advocate General now affirms the admissibility of such an action by an association, at least if the EU member state in question permits it. The action for an injunction brought by the vzbv against Facebook headquarters in Ireland is therefore deemed admissible by the EU Advocate General.

The Advocate General states, that

the defence of the collective interests of consumers by associations is particularly suited to the objective of the General Data Protection Regulation of establishing a high level of personal data protection.  

The Advocate General’s Opinion is not legally binding on the CJEU. The role of the Advocate General is to propose a legal solution for the cases to the CJEUin complete independence. The judges of the Court will now begin their consultations in this case.

Vinted under scrutiny by European data protection authorities

10. December 2021

The online clothing sales website vinted.com, operated by the Lithuanian company Vinted UAB, has recently had to face a large number of complaints regarding data protection aspects. The appeals were addressed to several national supervisory authorities, which, as a result, joined forces to investigate the website’s overall compliance with the GDPR. To this end, a task force was established, supported by the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), which held its first meeting on November 8th, 2021.

Vinted’s headquarters are located in Lithuania, which makes the State Data Protection Inspectorate (Lithuanian data protection authority) the leading supervisory authority. However, the platform is available in several other countries in Europe, whose supervisory authorities also received the aforementioned complaints. For this reason, the establishment of the task force was jointly decided by the national supervisory authorities from France, Lithuania and Poland. The aim of this task force is to ensure a coordinated approach to resolving the complaints received. It shall also enable a consistent and efficient examination of the compliance of Vinted’s data processing practices with the provisions of the GDPR.

The investigations focus in particular on the following issues:

  • website operator’s requirement to upload a scan of the user’s identity card in order to unblock funds received from sales on the corresponding account and the relevant legal basis,
  • procedure and criteria for blocking the user’s account and
  • applicable data retention periods.

This is not the first time Vinted has been accused of controversial practices. Back on May 18th, 2021, the French consumers group UFC Que Choisir filed a class-action lawsuit with 16 million users against the company for “misleading business practices.” These are said to consist of charging an allegedly optional commission on every transaction, the amount of which only appears at the time of payment.

EU commission working on allowing automated searches of the content of private and encrypted communications

25. November 2021

The EU Commission is working on a legislative package to combat child abuse, which will also regulate the exchange of child pornography on the internet. The scope of these regulations is expected to include automated searches for private encrypted communications via messaging apps.

When questioned, Olivier Onidi, Deputy Director General of the Directorate-General Migration and Home Affairs at the European Commission, said the proposal aims to “cover all forms of communication, including private communication”.

The EU Commissioner of Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, declared the fight against child sexual abuse to be her top priority. The current Slovenian EU Council Presidency has also declared the fight against child abuse to be one of its main priorities and intends to focus on the “digital dimension”.

In May 2021, the EU Commission, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on an exemption to the ePrivacy Directive that would allow web-based email and messaging services to detect, remove, and report child sexual abuse material. Previously, the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) had extended the legal protection of the ePrivacy Directive to private communications related to electronic messaging services. Unlike the General Data Protection Regulation, the ePrivacy Directive does not contain a legal basis for the voluntary processing of content or traffic data for the purpose of detecting child sexual abuse. For this reason, such an exception was necessary.

Critics see this form of preventive mass surveillance as a threat to privacy, IT security, freedom of expression and democracy. A critic to the agreement states:

This unprecedented deal means all of our private e-mails and messages will be subjected to privatized real-time mass surveillance using error-prone incrimination machines inflicting devastating collateral damage on users, children and victims alike.

However, the new legislative initiative goes even further. Instead of allowing providers of such services to search for such content on a voluntary basis, all providers would be required to search the services they offer for such content.

How exactly such a law would be implemented from a technical perspective will probably not be clear from the text of the law and is likely to be left up to the providers.
One possibility would be that software checks the hash of an attachment before it is sent and compares it with a database of hashes that have already been identified as illegal once. Such software is offered by Microsoft, for example, and such a database is operated by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. A hash is a kind of digital fingerprint of a file.
Another possibility would be the monitoring technology “client-side scanning”. This involves scanning messages before they are encrypted on the user’s device. However, this technology has been heavily criticized by numerous IT security researchers and encryption software manufacturers in a joint study. They describe CSS as a threat to privacy, IT security, freedom of expression and democracy, among other things because the technology creates security loopholes and thus opens up gateways for state actors and hackers.

The consequence of this law would be a significant intrusion into the privacy of all EU citizens, as every message would be checked automatically and without suspicion. The introduction of such a law would also have massive consequences for the providers of encrypted messaging services, as they would have to change their software fundamentally and introduce corresponding control mechanisms, but without jeopardizing the security of users, e.g., from criminal hackers.

There is another danger that must be considered: The introduction of such legally mandated automated control of systems for one area of application can always lead to a lowering of the inhibition threshold to use such systems for other purposes as well. This is because the same powers that are introduced in the name of combating child abuse could, of course, also be introduced for investigations in other areas.

It remains to be seen when the relevant legislation will be introduced and when and how it will be implemented. Originally, the bill was scheduled to be presented on December 1st, 2021, but this item has since been removed from the Commission’s calendar.

Processing of COVID-19 immunization data of employees in EEA countries

27. October 2021

As COVID-19 vaccination campaigns are well under way, employers are faced with the question of whether they are legally permitted to ask employees about their COVID-19 related information (vaccinated, recovered, test result) and, if so, how that information may be used.

COVID-19 related information, such as vaccination status, whether an employee has recovered from an infection or whether an employee is infected with COVID-19, is considered health data. This type of data is considered particularly sensitive data in most data protection regimes, which may only be processed under strict conditions. Art. 9 (1) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)(EU), Art. 9 (1) UK-GDPR (UK), Art. 5 (II) General Personal Data Protection Law (LGPD) (Brazil), para. 1798.140. (b) California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) (California) all consider health-related information as sensitive personal data. However, the question of whether COVID-19-related data may be processed by an employer is evaluated differently, even in the context of the same data protection regime such as the GDPR.

The following discusses whether employers in various European Economic Area (EEA) countries are permitted to process COVID-19-related information about their employees.

Austria: The processing of health data in context of the COVID-19 pandemic can be based on Article 9 (2) (b) of the GDPR in conjunction with the relevant provisions on the duty of care (processing for the purpose of fulfilling obligations under labor and social law). Under Austrian labor law, every employer has a duty of care towards its employees, which also includes the exclusion of health hazards in the workplace. However, this only entitles the employer to ask the employee in general terms whether he or she has been examined, is healthy or has been vaccinated. Therefore, if the legislator provides for two other equivalent methods to prove a low epidemiological risk in addition to vaccination, the current view of the data protection authority is that specific questioning about vaccination status is not possible from a data protection perspective. An exception to this is only to be seen in the case of an explicit (voluntary) consent of the employee (Art. 9 (2) a) GDPR), but a voluntary consent is not to be assumed as a rule due to the dependency relationship of the employee.
As of November, employees will be obliged to prove whether they have been vaccinated, recovered from a COVID-19 infection or recently tested negative if they have physical contact with others in enclosed spaces, such as the office.

Belgium: In Belgium, there is no legal basis for the processing of vaccination information of employees by their employer. Article 9 (1) GDPR prohibits the processing of health data unless an explicit exception under Article 9 (2) GDPR applies. Such an exception may be a legal provision or the free and explicit consent of the data subject. Such a legal provision is missing and in the relationship between employee and employer, the employee’s consent is rarely free, as an employee may be under great pressure to give consent. The Belgian data protection authority also explicitly denies the employer’s right to ask.

Finland: The processing of an employee’s health data is only permitted if it is directly necessary for the employment relationship. The employer must carefully verify whether this necessity exists. It is not possible to deviate from this necessity by obtaining the employee’s consent. The employer may process an employee’s health data if this is necessary for the payment of sick pay or comparable health-related benefits or to establish a justified reason for the employee’s absence. The processing of health data is also permitted if an employee expressly requests that his or her ability to work be determined on the basis of health data. In addition, the employer is entitled to process an employee’s health data in situations expressly provided for elsewhere in the Act. The employer may request from occupational health care statistical data on the vaccination protection of its employees.

France: Since July 21st, 2021, a “health passport” is mandatory for recreational and cultural facilities frequented by more than 50 people, such as theaters, cinemas, concerts, festivals, sports venues. The health passport is a digital or paper-based record of whether a person has been vaccinated, recovered within 11 days to 6 months, or tested negative within 48 hours. There are several workplaces where vaccination has been mandatory for workers since August 30th, 2021. These include bars, restaurants, seminars, public transport for long journeys (train, bus, plane). The health passport is also mandatory for the staff and visitors of hospitals, homes for the elderly, retirement homes, but not for patients who have a medical emergency. Also, visitors and staff of department stores and shopping malls need to present a health pass in case the prefect of the department decided this necessary. In these cases, the employer is obliged to check if his employees meet their legal obligations. However, the employer should not copy and store the vaccination certificates, but only store the information whether an employee has been vaccinated. Employers who do not fall into these categories are not allowed to process their employees’ vaccination data. In these cases, only occupational health services may process this type of information, but the employer may not obtain this information under any circumstances. At most, he may obtain a medical opinion on whether an employee is fit for work.

Germany: Processing of COVID-19 related information is generally only permitted for employers in certain sectors. Certain employers named in the law, such as in §§ 23a, 23 Infection Protection Act (IfSG), employers in certain health care facilities (e.g. hospitals, doctors’ offices, rescue services, ) and § 36 (3) IfSG, such as day care centers, outpatient care services, schools, homeless shelters or correctional facilities, are allowed to process the vaccination status of their employees. Other employers are generally not permitted to inquire about the vaccination status of employees. If allowed to process their employee’s vaccination status, employers should not copy the certificates but only check whether an employee is vaccinated. Although there has been an ongoing discussion in the federal government for several weeks about introducing a legal basis that would allow all employers to administer vaccination information. From November 2021, employers must check whether an employee who has been sanctioned with a quarantine due to a COVID-19 infection was or could have been vaccinated prior to the infection. According to Section 56 (1) sentence 4 IfSG, there is no entitlement to continued payment of remuneration for the period of quarantine if the employee could have avoided the quarantine, e.g. by taking advantage of a vaccination program. The employer must pay the compensation on behalf of the competent authority. As part of this obligation to pay in advance, the employer is also obliged to check whether the factual requirements for the granting of benefits are met. The employer is therefore obliged to obtain information on the vaccination status of its employee before paying compensation and, on this basis, to decide whether compensation can be considered in the individual case. The data protection basis for this processing activity is Section 26 (3) of the German Federal Data Protection Act (BDSG), which permits the processing of special categories of personal data – if this is necessary for the exercise of rights or the fulfillment of legal obligations arising from labor law, social security law and social protection law, and if there is no reason to assume that the data subjects’ interest in the exclusion of the processing, which is worthy of protection, outweighs this. The Data Protection Conference, an association of German data protection authorities, states that processing the vaccination status of employees on the basis of consent is only possible if the consent was given voluntarily and therefore legally effective, Section 26 (3) sentence 2 and (2) BDSG. Due to the relationship of superiority and subordination existing between employer and employee, there are regularly doubts about the voluntariness and thus the legal validity of the employees’ consent.

Italy: Since October 15, Italy has become the first country in the EEA to require all workers to present a “green passport” at the workplace. This document records whether a person has been vaccinated, recovered, or tested. A general vaccination requirement has been in effect for health care workers since May, and employees in educational institutions have been required to present the green passport since September.

Netherlands: Currently, there is no specific legislation that allows employers to process employee immunization data. Only the occupational health service and company doctors are allowed to process immunization data, for example when employees are absent or reintegrated. The Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport has announced that he will allow the health sector to determine the vaccination status of its employees. He also wants to examine whether and how this can be done in other work situations. Currently, employers can only offer voluntary testing in the workplace, but are not allowed to document the results of such tests or force

Spain: Employers are allowed to ask employees if they have been vaccinated, but only if it is proportionate and necessary for the employer to fulfill its legal obligation to ensure health and safety in the workplace. However, employees have the right to refuse to answer this question. Before entering the workplace, employees may be asked to provide a negative test or proof of vaccination if the occupational health and safety provider deems it necessary for the particular workplace.

The EU Whistleblowing Directive – An Overview

29. September 2021

The EU Whistleblower Directive was published in December 2019 and introduces minimum standards for the protection of individuals reporting breaches of EU law governing different areas of public interest, which are specified in the annex to the EU Whistleblower Directive. These include inter alia privacy and personal data protection as well as security of network information systems. The Directive aims to protect individuals who have become aware of such breaches in a work-related context, irrespective of their status from an employment law prospective. Employees, civil servants, self-employed service providers, freelance workers as well as volunteers and trainees and even shareholders will now be protected under the Whistleblower Directive.

Status of implementation in the EU Member states

EU member states are obliged to adapt the Whistleblower Directive into national law until December 17th, 2021. So far, the implementation is in process for at least 21 Member States.

Legislative proposals have been drafted in the following member states, and are up for discussion in their respective parliaments:

  • Belgium,
  • the Czech Republic,
  • Denmark,
  • France,
  • Romania,
  • the Netherlands.

First legislative steps have been taken in the following member states, where drafts are currently being planned or prepared:

  • Bulgaria,
  • Croatia,
  • Estonia,
  • Finland,
  • Greece,
  • Ireland,
  • Latvia,
  • Lithuania,
  • Poland,
  • Portugal.

Slovakia and Slovenia have enacted laws in first reaction to the Directive, however new laws for a full implementation are underway. In Germany, there is currently no comprehensive law that implements the Whistleblower Directive. At the time of this writing, a number of proposals are in development. The concrete implementation of the Directive in Germany has remained controversial between the governing parties. A draft bill of the Whistleblower Protection Act (Hinweisgeberschutzgesetz) submitted by the Federal Ministry of Justice was rejected within the government at the end of April 2021 because it provided for stricter regulations than the EU Directive.  A new draft is yet to be passed on to the next stage.

Naturally, operating channels and procedures for internal reporting of EU law breaches will inevitably involve the processing of personal data, and the EU legislators were clearly aware of the consequences, as the Whistleblower Directive generally states that any processing of personal data pursuant to the Whistleblower Directive must be carried out in accordance with EU data protection law and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in particular.

What this means for companies in the EU

In order for companies to understand how to comply with the EU Whistleblower Directive, it is important for businesses to keep the following data protection elements in mind:

  • Handle reports and the personal data of the reporter/whistleblower according to the principles of Art. 5 GDPR: lawfulness, fairness, transparency, purpose limitation, data minimisation, accuracy, storage limitation, integrity, confidentiality and accountability;
  • Have a legal basis for the processing of personal data and whistleblower reports (in this case Art. 6 para. 1 lit. c GDPR plus if applicable national data protection law in conjunction with the EU Whistleblower Directive);
  • Purpose limitation and data minimization for reports through Privacy by Design and Default (configuration of the reporting tool in a way that allows only data relevant to the report to be collected, irrelevant data should be deleted without undue delay);
  • Limit access to the reports by responsible employees only based on a strict and detailed authorization concept (Need-to-Know basis);
  • Ensure that the identity of the reporter/whistleblower remains confidential;
  • Inform all (potential) reporters/whistleblowers about the data processing activity in relation to the report and the following investigation process according to Art. 13 GDPR and the protection of their identity (preferably implemented in the reporting tools, so that the reporter/whistleblower is properly informed);
  • Documentation of the processing activity in a Record of Processing Activities according to Art. 30 GDPR;
  • Enter into GDPR compliant Data Processing Agreements with relevant service providers, if applicable;
  • Have applicable and GDPR compliant Technical and Organizational Measures in place;
  • Have a Retention Schedule in place (recommended deletion of personal data within two months after completion of the investigation unless legal proceedings follow);
  • Keep reports local unless necessary to disclose to other group entities due to the reports affecting other locations.

To date, there is very little official guidance available from EU data protection regulators. Sooner or later, EU data protection regulators will have to either issue updated guidance before the transposition laws at EU Member State level kick in or will encourage industry stakeholders to draw up a code of conduct for whistleblower reporting.

On the business side, successful implementation can protect your business and promote a better workplace culture. The Directive establishes three options for the reporting of information by whistleblowers:

  • Internal reporting channel within the business which are mandatory according to the Directive for businesses with 50 or more employees,
  • External reporting Channels facilitated through relevant authorities on a national or EU-level,
  • Under certain circumstances, the whistleblower can decide to publicly report the information, e.g. via social media.

These channels can either be:

  • Written – online reporting platform, email or post,
  • Verbal – phone hotline with messaging system or in-person.

We recommend staying updated on the developments on the EU Whistleblower Directive and the status of implementation within the EU member states. In the meantime, if you have questions on how the EU Whistleblower Directive might impact your business in Germany and the EU, do not hesitate to contact us.

New EU SCC must be used as of now

In June 2021, the European Commission published the long-awaited new Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) for the transfers of personal data to so-called third countries under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (please see our blog post). These new SCC modules replace the three 10-year-old SCC sets that were adopted under the EU Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC and thus could not meet the requirements of the GDPR for data transfers to third countries, nor the significant Schrems II ruling of July 16th, 2020 (please see our blog post). The transfer of data to third countries has not only recently become problematic and a focus of supervisory authorities.

As of Monday, September 27th, 2021, these new SCC must be used for new contracts entered into after September 26th, 2021, and for new processing activities that begin after September 26th, if the contract or processing activity involves the transfer of personal data to so-called inadequate third countries. These are countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) not deemed to have an adequate level of data protection by an adequacy decision of the European Commission.

Contracts signed before September 27th, 2021, based on the old SCC will still be considered adequate until December 27th, 2022. For these contracts, the old SCCs already signed can be maintained in the meantime as long as the processing of personal data that is the subject of the contract in question does not change. The SCC used for these contracts must be updated to the new SCC, or other data transfer mechanisms in accordance with the GDPR, by December 27th, 2022. As of that date, all SCC used as safeguards for data transfers to inadequate third countries must be the new SCC.

CNIL fines Monsanto 400,000 € for GDPR violations

29. July 2021

France’s data protection authority, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), imposed a fine of 400,000 € on the U.S.-based biotechnology corporation Monsanto Company for contravention of Article 14 GDPR regarding the information of data subjects about the collection of their personal data and Article 28 GDPR concerning contractual guarantees which lay down relations with a data processor.

In May 2019, several media outlets revealed that Monsanto was in possession of a file containing personal data of more than 200 political figures or members of civil society (e.g. journalists, environmental activists, scientists or farmers). The investigations carried out by the CNIL disclosed that the information had been collected for lobbying purposes. The individuals named on this “watch list” were Monsanto’s opponents and critics from several European countries, meant to be “educated” or “monitored”. This strategy should have influenced the debate and public opinion on the renewal of the authorization of glyphosate in Europe, a controversial active substance contained in Monsanto’s best-known product for weed control. The reason for the still current scientific controversy is the causation of diseases by glyphosate, most notably cancer.

The file included, for each of the individuals, personal data such as organization, position, business address, business phone number, cell phone number, business email address, and in some cases Twitter accounts. In addition, each person was given a score from 1 to 5 to evaluate their influence, credibility, and support for Monsanto on various issues such as pesticides or genetically modified organisms.

It should be noted that the creation of contact files by stakeholders for lobbying purposes is not illegal per se. While it is not necessary to obtain the consent of the data subjects, the data have to be lawfully collected and the individuals have to be informed of the processing.

In imposing the penalty, the CNIL considered that Monsanto had failed to comply with the provisions of the GDPR by not informing the data subjects about the storage of their data, as required by Article 14 GDPR. In addition, none of the exceptions provided in Article 14 para. 5 GDPR were applicable in this case. The data protection authority stressed that the aforementioned obligation is a key measure under the GDPR insofar as it allows the data subjects to exercise their other rights, in particular the right to object.

Furthermore, Monsanto violated its obligations under Article 28 GDPR. As a controller, the company was required to establish a legal framework for the processing carried out on its behalf by its processor, in particular to provide data security guarantees. However, in the CNIL’s opinion, none of the contracts concluded between the two companies complied with the requirements of Article 28 para. 4 GDPR.

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