Category: GDPR

Amazon facing potential record GDPR fine

18. June 2021

Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection, the CNPD, has proposed a $ 425 million (€ 348.7 million) fine against Amazon.com Inc. for alleged GDPR violations, the Wall Street Journal reports. It would be the highest penalty to date under EU data protection law, exceeding the current record penalty of € 50 million against Google LLC.

It is not yet clear to the public what exactly the allegations are since the statements are based on a confidential source. Amazon also declined to comment on the case. The charges are apparently related to Amazon’s data collection and usage practices, but do not involve the Amazon Web Services cloud computing business.

The CNPD is Amazon’s competent data protection authority as the international retail company has its regional headquarters in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. According to the Article 64 GDPR procedure, the CNPD submitted its draft decision to data protection authorities of the other EU member states, which will have to approve the sanction before it can be officially imposed. Based on comparable cases in the past, the process could take months and lead to substantive changes, including an increased or reduced fine.

Though the proposed amount would set a record, it is far below the maximum of 4 % of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year allowed by Article 83 (5) GDPR. It amounts to only about 0.1 % of Amazon’s annual revenue. As some critics say, this illustrates a pattern of data protection authorities favoring big-tech companies and often reducing large initial proposals after a long deliberation period. Given the companies’ massive incomes, such penalties are easy to recover from and ultimately, they run counter to the preventive purpose of the punishment.

As a result, these companies could soon fall under the terms of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, which were proposed by the European Commission at the end of 2020 to upgrade rules governing digital services in the EU. This new set of regulations, which specifically targets tech companies, increases potential fines to 10 % of the global turnover.

New SCCs published by the EU Commission for international data transfers

10. June 2021

On June 4th 2021, the EU Commission adopted new standard contractual clauses (SCC) for international data transfers. The SCCs are model contracts that can constitute a suitable guarantee under Art. 46 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the transfer of personal data to third countries. Third countries are those outside the EU/European Economic Area (EEA), e.g. the USA.

The new clauses were long awaited, as the current standard contractual clauses are more than 10 years old and thus could neither take into account the requirements regarding third country transfers of the GDPR nor the significant Schrems II ruling of July 16th, 2020. Thus, third country transfers had become problematic and had not only recently been targeted by investigations by supervisory authorities, inter alia in Germany.

What is new about the SCCs now presented is above all their structure. The different types of data transfers are no longer spread over two different SCC models, but are found in one document. In this respect, they are divided into four different “modules”. This should allow for a flexible contract design. For this purpose, the appropriate module is to be selected according to the relationship of the parties. The following modules are included in the new SCCs:

Module 1: Transfer of personal data between two controllers.
Module 2: Transfer of personal data from the controller to the processor
Module 3: Transfer of personal data between two processors
Module 4: Transfer of personal data from the processor to the controller

The content of the new provisions also includes an obligation to carry out a data transfer impact assessment, i.e. the obligation to satisfy oneself that the contractual partner from the third country is in a position to fulfil its obligations under the current SCCs. Also newly included are the duty to defend against government requests that contradict the requirements of the standard protection clauses and to inform the competent supervisory authorities about the requests. The data transfer impact assessment must be documented and submitted to the supervisory authorities upon request.

The documents are the final working documents. The official publication of the SCCs in the Official Journal of the European Union took place on June 7th, 2021. From then on and within a period of 18 months until December 27th, 2022, the existing contracts with partners from third countries, in particular Microsoft or Amazon, must be supplemented with the new SCCs.

However, even if the new SCCs are used, a case-by-case assessment of the level of data protection remains unavoidable because the new clauses alone will generally not be sufficient to meet the requirements of the ECJ in the above-mentioned ruling. In such a case-by-case examination, the text of the contract and the actual level of data protection must be examined. The latter should be done by means of a questionnaire to the processor in the third country.

Accordingly, it is not enough to simply sign the new SCC, but the controller must take further action to enable secure data transfer to third countries.

Dutch data protection authority imposes fine of €525,000

Company fails to appoint an EU representative. Dutch data protection authority imposes fine of €525,000.

The Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) imposed a fine of €525,000 on Locatefamily.com on May 12, 2021. The company failed to comply with its obligation under Article 27 of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which required the company to appoint a representative in the EU.

The online platform caught the attention of the authorities because it published the contact details (including telephone numbers and addresses) of individuals. In this regard, the Dutch data protection authority stated that data subjects had often not registered for the online platform. In particular, the data subjects did not know how the company had obtained their data.

After numerous complaints from individuals, the data protection authority determined that the online platform had not complied with requests to delete data. It further came to light that the company had no branches in the EU and had not appointed a representative accordingly. This made it almost impossible for data subjects to assert their rights against the company.

Article 27(2)(a) of the GDPR provides that companies not established in the EU that offer goods or services to persons in the EU or monitor the conduct of persons in the EU must designate a representative in the EU. Although exceptions to this are possible, they are narrowly defined.

An exemption may be considered if the processing of personal data is occasional and does not involve the extensive processing of sensitive personal data or the processing of personal data in connection with criminal convictions and offenses. The processing must also not, taking into account the nature, context, scope and purposes of the processing, result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons.

As no exceptional case existed in the assessment of the Dutch data protection authority, the company imposed a fine in the amount of €525,000 on Locatefamily.com. To avoid further penalties, the company was to appoint an EU representative by a certain deadline.

High Court dismisses Facebook’s procedural complaints in Data Transfer Case

18. May 2021

On Friday, May 14th 2021, the Irish High Court dismissed all of Facebook’s procedural complaints in a preliminary decision from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission regarding data transfers from the EU to the U.S. It rejected Facebook’s claims that the privacy regulator had given it too little time to respond or issued a judgment prematurely.

If finalized, the preliminary decision could force the social-media company to suspend sending personal information about EU users to Facebook’s servers in the U.S. While the decision of the High Court was only a procedural one, experts warn that the logic in Ireland’s provisional order could apply to other large tech companies that are subject to U.S. surveillance laws. This could potentially lead to a widespread disruption of trans-Atlantic data flows.

Facebook addressed the preliminary decision, stating that Friday’s court decision was procedural and that it planned to defend its data transfers before the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). It added that the regulator’s preliminary decision could be “damaging not only to Facebook, but also to users and other businesses.”

However, the Irish DPC still needs to finalize its draft decision ordering a suspension of data transfers and submit it to other EU privacy regulators for approval before it comes into effect. That process could take months, not counting potential other court challenges by Facebook.

Portuguese DPA Orders Suspension of U.S. Data Transfers by National Institute of Statistics

29. April 2021

On April 27, 2021, the Portuguese Data Protection Authority “Comissão Nacional de Proteção de Dados” (CNPD) ordered the National Institute of Statistics (INE) to suspend any international data transfers of personal data to the U.S., as well as other countries without an adequate level of protection, within 12 hours.

The INE collects different kinds of data from Portuguese residents from 2021 Census surveys and transfers it to Cloudfare, Inc. (Cloudfare), a service provider in the U.S. that assists the surveys’ operation. EU Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) are in place with the U.S. service provider to legitimize the data transfers.

Due to receiving a lot of complaints, the CNPD started an investigation into the INE’s data transfers to third countries outside of the EU. In the course of the investigation, the CNDP concluded that Cloudfare is directly subject to U.S. surveillance laws, such as FISA 702, for national security purposes. These kinds of U.S. surveillance laws impose a legal obligation on companies like Cloudfare to give unrestricted access to personal data of its customers and users to U.S. public authorities without informing the data subjects.

In its decision to suspend any international data transfers of the INE, the CNPD referred to the Schrems II ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Accordingly, the CNPD is if the opinion that personal data transferred to the U.S. by the INE was not afforded a level of data protection essentially equivalent to that guaranteed under EU law, as further safeguards have to be put in place to guarantee requirements that are essentially equivalent to those required under EU law by the principle of proportionality. Due to the lack of further safeguards, the surveillance by the U.S. authorities are not limited to what is strictly necessary, and therefore the SCCs alone do not offer adequate protection.

The CNPD also highlighted that, according to the Schrems II ruling, data protection authorities are obliged to suspend or prohibit data transfers, even when those transfers are based on the European Commission’s SCCs, if there are no guarantees that these can be complied with in the recipient country. As Cloudfare is also receiving a fair amount of sensitive data n relation to its services for the INE, it influenced the CNDP’s decision to suspend the transfers.

Irish DPC launches investigation into Facebook data leak

26. April 2021

On April 14th, 2021, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) announced it launched an investigation into Facebook’s data leak reported earlier this month (please see our blog post here). The inquiry was initiated on the Irish DPC’s own volition according to section 110 of the Irish Data Protection Act. It comes after a dataset of 533 million Facebook users worldwide was made available on the internet.

The Irish DPC indicated in a statement that, “having considered the information provided by Facebook Ireland regarding this matter to date, the DPC is of the opinion that one or more provisions of the GDPR and/or the Data Protection Act 2018 may have been, and/or are being, infringed in relation to Facebook Users’ personal data”. The Irish DPC further stated that they had engaged with Facebook Ireland in relation to this reported issue, raising queries in relation to GDPR compliance, to which Facebook Ireland furnished a number of responses.

The launch of an investigation by the Irish authorities is significant due to the fact that Ireland remains home to Facebook’s European headquarters. This means the Irish DPC would act as the lead regulator within the European Union on all matters related to it. However, Ireland’s data watchdog has faced criticism from privacy advocates for being too slow with its GDPR investigations into large tech companies. In fact, the inquiry comes after the European Commission intervened to apply pressure on Ireland’s data protection commissioner.

Facebook’s statement on the inquiry has been shared through multiple media, and it has announced that Facebook is “cooperating fully with the DPC in its enquiry, which relates to features that make it easier for people to find and connect with friends on our services. These features are common to many apps and we look forward to explaining them and the protections we have put in place.”

EPRS publishes report on post-Brexit EU-UK Data Transfer Mechanisms

20. April 2021

On April 9th, 2021, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published a report on data transfers in the private sector between the EU and the U.K. following Brexit.

The report reviews and assesses trade dealings, adequacy challenges and transfer instruments under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The report is intended to help take regulatory and business decisions, and in the Press Release the European Parliament stated that “a clear understanding of the state of play and future prospects for EU-UK transfers of personal data is indispensable”.

The report provides in-depth analysis of an adequacy decision for the UK as a viable long-term solution for data flows between the U.K. and the EU, also considering possible mechanisms for data transfer in the potential absence of an adequacy decision, such as Standard Contractual Clauses, Binding Corporate Rules, codes of conduct, and certification mechanism.

In this analysis the EPRS also sheds light on adequacy concerns such as U.K. surveillance laws and practices, shortcomings of the implementation of the GDPR, weak enforcement of data protection laws, and wavering commitment to EU data protection standards.

As part of its conclusion, the EPRS stated that the European Data Protection Board’s (‘EDPB’) opinion on the draft decision, which has just been published (please see our blogpost here), will likely scrutinise the Commission’s approach and provide recommendations on next steps.

EDPB adopts opinion on draft UK adequacy decisions

16. April 2021

In accordance with its obligation under Article 70 (1) (s) of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), on April 13th, 2021, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) adopted its opinions on the EU Commissions (“EC”) draft UK adequacy decision (please see our blog post). “Opinion 14/2021” is based on the GDPR and assesses both general data protection aspects and the public authority access to personal data transferred from the EEA for law enforcement and national security purposes contained in the draft adequacy decision, a topic the EC also discussed in detail. At the same time, the EDPB also issued “Opinion 15/2021” on the transfer of personal data under the Law Enforcement Directive (LED).

The EDPB notes that there is a strong alignment between the EU and the UK data protection regimes, especially in the principles relating to the processing of personal data. It expressly praises the fact that the adequacy decision is to apply for a limited period, as the EDPB also sees the danger that the UK could change its data protection laws. Andrea Jelinek, EDPB Chair, is quoted:

“The UK data protection framework is largely based on the EU data protection framework. The UK Data Protection Act 2018 further specifies the application of the GDPR in UK law, in addition to transposing the LED, as well as granting powers and imposing duties on the national data protection supervisory authority, the ICO. Therefore, the EDPB recognises that the UK has mirrored, for the most part, the GDPR and LED in its data protection framework and when analysing its law and practice, the EDPB identified many aspects to be essentially equivalent. However, whilst laws can evolve, this alignment should be maintained. So we welcome the Commission’s decision to limit the granted adequacy in time and the intention to closely monitor developments in the UK.”

But the EDPB also highlights areas of concern that need to be further monitored by the EC:

1. The immigration exemption, which restricts the rights of those data subjects affected.

2. How the transfer of personal data from the EEA to the UK could undermine EU data protection rules, for example on basis of future UK adequacy decisions.

3. Access to personal data by public authorities is given a lot of space in the opinion. For example, the Opinion analyses in detail the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and related case law. The EDPB welcomes the numerous oversight and redress mechanisms in the UK but identifies a number of issues that need “further clarification and/or oversight”, namely bulk searches, independent assessment and oversight of the use of automated processing tools, and the safeguards provided under UK law when it comes to disclosure abroad, particularly with regard to the application of national security exemptions.

In summary, this EDPB opinion does not put any obstacles in the way of an adequacy decision and recognises that there are many areas where the UK and EU regimes converge. Nevertheless, it highlights very clearly that there are deficiencies, particularly in the UK’s system for monitoring national security, which need to be reviewed and kept under observation.

As for the next steps, the draft UK adequacy decisions will now be assessed by representatives of the EU Member States under the “comitology procedure“. The Commission can then adopt the draft UK adequacy decisions. A bridging period during which free data transfer to the UK is permitted even without an adequacy decision ends in June 2021 (please see our blog post).

Thailand: Another delay of the Personal Data Protection Act

9. April 2021

On May 28th, 2019, the Personal Data Protection Act (“PDPA”) became law in Thailand. It is the country’s very first legislation governing data protection. Originally, a one-year grace period was determined for implementation of the requirements so that companies could prepare for the prospective liabilities in order to become compliant with the PDPA. However, on May 21st, 2020, a Royal Decree extended the implementation of the PDPA’s key provisions for another year, until June 1st, 2021 (we reported). Currently, a further postponement of the PDPA’s enforcement date is being considered.

According to new Digital Economy and Society (“DES”) Minister, consideration may be given to deferring or amending the PDPA, if the public has negative views about it. The aim is to support small and medium-sized businesses affected by the legislation since most of them are still unprepared for the new obligations and have not adjusted their internal processes yet. In addition, there is an unfortunate lack of willingness among companies concerned, as deputy permanent secretary at the DES Ministry stated. These shortcomings are reflected by the fact that some associations, including the travel and automotive industries, have already requested the deferral of the PDPA’s enforcement.

Contrary to what was initially planned, the appointment of members to the Personal Data Protection Committee is also expected to be delayed further. The Committee plays a decisive role in the approval of subsidiary legislation. The drafts for this concern consent procedures, complaint reception and expert panels.

According to the current status, the PDPA needs further adjustments and necessary regulations still need to be drafted, as many issues have been raised for consultation with regard to the PDPA since it came into effect. The main priorities on which the government intends to focus are as follows:

  • Supporting people’s access to innovation and technology,
  • Creating an ecosystem conducive to a digital economy,
  • Gearing up for digital infrastructure development, particularly 5G and smart city projects,
  • Legal development and enforcement to create a trusted digital ecosystem, especially for the PDPA and issues related to electronic transactions and cybersecurity,
  • Protecting the public from abuse on social media and the internet.

The DES Ministry expects that full enforcement of the PDPA will likely be delayed until the end of this year.

Facebook data leak affects more than 500 million users

7. April 2021

Confidential data of 533 million Facebook users has surfaced in a forum for cybercriminals. A Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that the data came from a leak in 2019.

The leaked data includes Facebook usernames and full name, date of birth, phone number, location and biographical information, and in some cases, the email address of the affected users. Business Insider has verified the leaked data through random sampling. Even though some of the data may be outdated, the leak poses risks if, for example, email addresses or phone numbers are used for hacking. The leak was made public by the IT security firm Hudson Rock. Their employees noticed that the data sets were offered by a bot for money in a hacking forum. The data set was then offered publicly for free and thus made accessible to everyone.

The US magazine Wired points out that Facebook is doing more to confuse than to help clarify. First, Facebook referred to an earlier security vulnerability in 2019, which we already reported. This vulnerability was patched in August last year. Later, a blog post from a Facebook product manager confirmed that it was a major security breach. However, the data had not been accessed through hacking, but rather the exploitation of a legitimate Facebook feature. In addition, the affected data was so old that GDPR and U.S. privacy laws did not apply, he said. In the summer of 2019, Facebook reached an agreement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to pay a $5 billion fine for all data breaches before June 12, 2019. According to Wired, the current database is not congruent with the one at issue at the time, as the most recent Facebook ID in it is from late May 2019.

Users can check whether they are affected by the data leak via the website HaveIBeenPwned.

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