Category: GDPR

(Update) Processing of COVID-19 immunization data of employees in EEA countries

21. January 2022

With COVID-19 vaccination campaigns well under way, employers are faced with the question of whether they are legally permitted to ask employees about their COVID-19 related information 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.

Below, we discuss whether employers in different European Economic Area (EEA) countries are permitted to process COVID-19-related data 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.

Austria was the first EU country to introduce mandatory Corona vaccination. From the beginning of February, Corona vaccination will be mandatory for all persons over 18 years of age, otherwise they will face fines of up to 3,600 euros from mid-March.

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 explicitly denies the employer’s right to ask.

The Belgian government plans to make vaccination mandatory for health workers from April 2022.

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 assess 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 legitimate 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 by law. The employer may require occupational health care to provide statistical data on the immunization coverage of its employees.

France: In general employers may not require their employees to disclose whether they have been vaccinated, unless specific circumstances determined by law apply.

In France, mandatory vaccination has been in effect since mid-September for healthcare workers, i.e., employees of hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, care services, and employees of emergency services and fire departments.

Since July 21st, 2021, a “health passport” is mandatory for recreational and cultural facilities with more than 50 visitors, 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. Due to the Health Crisis Management Law No 2021-1040 of August 5, 2021 there are several workplaces where the health pass is mandatory for employees 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.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 and 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 allowed for employers in certain industries. 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. But since §28b IfSG came into force on November 24, 2021, employees may only be granted access to company premises if they can prove that they have either been vaccinated, recently recovered or tested negative (so-called “3G status”). In this context, employers may require employees to provide proof of one of the three statuses but may not specifically ask about vaccination status. When it comes to processing and storing information obtained during access control, for data protection reasons, this information must be limited to the fact that employees have access to the premises (taking into account their documented status) and how long this access authorization has existed.

Under current law, while “vaccinated” status does not expire, the information may only be stored for 6 months. “Recently recovered” status is only valid for three months. After that, they must provide other proof that they meet one of the 3G criteria. A negative test is valid for either 24 or 48 hours, depending on the type of test.

Since November 2021, employers are required to verify whether an employee who has been sanctioned with a quarantine for COVID-19 infection was or could have been vaccinated prior to the infection. Under the fourth sentence of Section 56 (1) of the IfSG, an employee is not entitled to continued payment 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 make an advance payment, the employer is also obliged to check whether the factual requirements for granting the benefits are met. The employer is therefore obliged to obtain information on the vaccination status of its employee before paying the compensation and to decide on this basis whether compensation can be considered in the individual case. The data protection law 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 under labor, social insurance and social protection law and there is no reason to assume that the interests of the data subjects worthy of protection in the exclusion of the processing outweigh 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 thus legally valid, 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.

If employers are allowed to process the vaccination status of their employees, they should not copy the certificates, but only check to see if an employee has been vaccinated.

A mandatory vaccination for all german citizens is being discussed.

Greece: Corona vaccination became mandatory for nursing home staff in mid-August and for the healthcare sector on September 1. Since mid-September, all unvaccinated professionals have had to present a negative Corona rapid test twice a week – at their own expense – when they go to work.

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. In mid-October, mandatory vaccination was extended to employees of nursing homes.

Netherlands: Currently, there is no specific legislation that allows employers to process the vaccination data of their employees. Government guidelines for employers state that neither testing nor vaccination can be mandated for employees. Only occupational health services and company physicians are allowed to process vaccination data, for example, when employees are absent or reinstated. 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 or enforce the results of such tests.

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.

Dutch Minister of Finance fined 2.75 million Euro for discriminatory and unlawful data processing

4. January 2022

On December 8th, 2021, the Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens (the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA)) announced that it had fined the Belastingdienst (the Dutch Tax Administration) €2.75 million. The fine was imposed because, as part of the so-called Toeslagenaaffaire (Childcare Benefit Affair), the Belastingdienst processed data on the (dual) nationality of childcare benefit claimants in an unlawful, discriminatory and therefore unlawful manner over many years, in serious breach of the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In the 2010s, the Belastingdienst wrongly reclaimed child benefits from tens of thousands of parents. Even minor formal errors in filling out the forms led to enormous claims, and a supposedly false citizenship could lead to years of stigmatizing fraud investigations. As a result, many families who relied on government assistance were driven into bankruptcy. The Belastingdienst should have deleted the data on dual nationality of Dutch nationals in January 2014, as from that date the dual nationality of Dutch nationals no longer played a legal role in the assessment of applications for childcare benefits. Nevertheless, the Belastingdienst retained and used these data. In May 2018, there were still about 1.4 million people with dual nationality registered in the Belastingdienst’s systems. What initially appeared to be a simple administrative failure has evolved over the years into a major scandal. The final report of the investigative commission, presented in December, concludes that the tax offices systematically preyed on innocent citizens. The Belastingdienst also used the nationality of applicants as an indicator in a system that automatically classified certain applications as risky. Again, the data were not necessary for this purpose. Under the General Data Protection Regulation, it is unlawful to process data on nationality in a discriminatory manner, as the data processing must not violate fundamental rights. These include the right to equality and non-discrimination. Under the GDPR, it is unlawful to process personal data on nationality in a discriminatory manner, as the data processing must not violate fundamental rights. These include the right to equality and non-discrimination. In addition, personal data may only be processed and stored for a specific, predetermined purpose. Processing without a purpose is inadmissible, and here there was no purpose, as nationality is legally irrelevant for the assessment of applications for childcare benefits.

In the statement DPA chair Aleid Wolfsen is quoted:

The government has exclusive responsibility for lots of things. Members of the public don’t have a choice; they are forced to allow the government to process their personal data.
That’s why it’s crucial that everyone can have absolute confidence that this processing is done properly. That the government doesn’t keep and process unnecessary data about individuals. And that there is never any element of discrimination involved in an individual’s contact with the government.
That went horribly wrong at the Benefits Office, with all the associated consequences. Obviously this fine cannot undo any of the harm done. But it is an important step within a broader recovery process.

In the wake of the DPA investigation, the Belastingdienst began to clean up its internal systems. In the summer of 2020, the dual nationalities of Dutch nationals were completely deleted from the systems. According to the DPA, since October 2018, the Belastingdienst no longer uses the nationality of applicants to assess risk. And since February 2019, it no longer uses the data to fight organized fraud. The fine was imposed on the Minister of Finance because he is responsible for the processing of personal data within the Belastingdienst.

CNIL posts guidance on use of third-party cookie alternatives

16. December 2021

France’s data protection authority, the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), has published a guidance on the use of alternatives to third-party cookies.

The guidance aims to highlight that there are other ways to track users online than through third-party cookies, and that it is important to apply data protection principles to new technologies with tracking ability.

In the guidance, the CNIL gives an overview on what cookies are and the difference between first-party and third-party cookies, as well as the meaning of the two for personalized advertisement targeting.

It also highlights consent management and collection as being the key role to ensure a data protection compliant online tracking culture for new tracking methods and technologies. Further, the guidance also emphasizes that consent is not the only important requirement. In addition, online tracking and targeting methods should ensure that users keep control of their data and that all data subject rights are allowed and facilitated.

In light of this, the CNIL has gone ahead and published a guide for developers to help outline how to implement data protection compliant third-party cookies and other tracers in order to sensibilize people that are part of the implementation process as to how to stay compliant.

However, the CNIL also issued about 60 cookie compliance notices and 30 new orders to organizations for not offering users a data protection compliant ability to refuse cookies.

The CNIL has stepped up efforts to tackle cookie management and consent in order to ensure the rights and freedom of the data subjects in relation to their personal data online are kept safe. It has made clear that cookies are its main focus for the upcoming year, and that it will continue to hold companies liable for their insufficient data protection implementation.

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.

European Commission pursues legal action against Belgium over independence of Data Protection Autority

16. November 2021

In its October Infringements Package, the European Commission has stated it is pursuing legal actions against Belgium over concerns its Data Protection Authority (DPA) is not operating independently, as it should under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The Commission stated that it “considers that Belgium violates Article 52 of the GDPR, which states that the data protection supervisory authority shall perform its tasks and exercise its powers independently. The independence of data protection authorities requires that their members are free from any external influence or incompatible occupation.”

According to the European Commission, however, some members of the Belgian DPA cannot be regarded as free from external influence, as they either report to a management committee depending on the Belgian government, they have taken part in governmental projects on COVID-19 contact tracing, or they are members of the Information Security Committee.

On June 9th, 2021, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Belgium, giving the member state two months to take corrective measures. Belgium’s response to the Commission’s letter did not address the issues raised and the members concerned have so far remained in their posts. The European Commission is now giving Belgium two months to take relevant action. If this fails, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

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.

EDPB adopts new Guidelines on restrictions of data subject rights under Article 23 GDPR

25. October 2021

During its plenary session of October 2021, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted a final version of the Guidelines on restrictions of data subject rights under Art. 23 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) following public consultation.

The Guidelines “provide a thorough analysis of the criteria to apply restrictions, the assessments that need to be observed, how data subjects can exercise their rights after the restrictions are lifted, and the consequences of infringements of Art. 23 GDPR,” the EDPB stated in their press release.

Further, the Guidelines aim to analyze how the legislative measures setting out the restrictions need to meet the foreseeability requirement and examine the grounds for the restrictions listed by Art. 23(1) GDPR, as well as the obligations and rights which may be restricted.

These Guidelines hope to recall the conditions surrounding the use of the restrictions by the Member States in light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and to guide Member States if they wish to implement restrictions under national law.

EDPB creates “Cookie Banner Taskforce”

5. October 2021

On September 27, 2021, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) announced that it has established a “Cookie Banner” taskforce in order to coordinate the complaints and corresponding responses filed with several EU data protection authorities (DPA) by the non-governmental organization None of Your Business (NOYB) in relation to website cookie banners.

In May 2021 NOYB sent over 500 draft and formal complaints to companies residing in the EU regarding the use of their cookie banners. The complaints seem to focus on the absence of a “reject all” button on most of the websites as well as the way cookie banners use deceptive design in order to get data subjects to consent to the use of non-essential cookies. Another regular complaint is the difficulty for refusing cookies, as opposed to the simple way of consenting to them.

The EDPB stated that “this taskforce was established in accordance with Art. 70 (1) (u) GDPR and aims to promote cooperation, information sharing and best practices between the DPAs”. The taskforce is meant to exchange views on legal analysis and possible infringements, provide support to activities on the national levels and streamline communication.

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.

noyb filed complaints against the cookie paywalls of seven major news websites in Austria and Germany

25. August 2021

Privacy Activist Max Schrems’ data protection organization noyb (an acronym for “none of your business”) announced on August 13th, 2021, they filed complaints against the cookie paywalls of seven major German and Austrian news websites. In the statement, they question whether consent can be “voluntarily” given if you have to pay to keep your data.

An increasing amount of websites asks their users to either agree to data being passed on to hundreds of tracking companies (which generates a few cents of revenue for the website) or take out a subscription (for up to € 80 per year). Can consent be considered “freely given” if the alternative is to pay 10, 20 or 100 times the market price of your data to keep it to yourself?

With these paywalls, the user must decide whether to agree to the use of his or her own data for advertising purposes or to enter into a paid subscription with the respective publisher. However, personal data may only be processed if there is a legal basis for doing so. Such a legal basis may arise, for example, from Article 6 (1) (a) of the GDPR, if the data subject has given his or her consent to this processing. Such consent must be “freely given”. According to Rectical 42, sentence 5, “consent is not regarded as freely given if the data subject has no genuine or free choice or is unable to refuse or withdraw consent without detriment.” noyb is of the opinion that the paywall solution lacks the necessary voluntariness for consent and thus also lacks a legal basis according to Art. 6 (1) a) DSGVO.

Art. 7 (4) GDPR demands, “when assessing whether consent is freely given, utmost account shall be taken of whether, inter alia, the performance of a contract, including the provision of a service, is conditional on consent to the processing of personal data that is not necessary for the performance of that contract.”

In contrast, in a decision on November 30th, 2018, the Austrian data protection authority did not see a violation of the GDPR in a paywall system, as the data subject receives a recognizable benefit, and expressed that the decision was thus voluntary after all.

Accordingly, users’ personal data could be considered a “means of payment” with which they pay for a paid subscription instead of a monetary benefit. Consent to data processing would thus be necessary for fulfillment, as it represents the quid pro quo the data subject, in other words, the purchase price. How the responsible data protection authorities will ultimately decide remains to be seen.

These complaints by noyb represent the organization’s second major campaign this month. On August 10, they have already filed 422 formal complaints with 10 European regulators based on inadequate cookie banners.

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