Category: International data transfers

Privacy Activist Schrems unleashes 101 Complaints

21. September 2020

Lawyer and privacy activist Maximilian Schrems has become known for his legal actions leading to the invalidation of “Safe Harbor” in 2015 and of the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield” this year (we reported). Following the landmark court decision on the “EU-U.S. Privacy Shield”, Schrems recently announced on the website of his NGO “noyb” (non-of-your-business) that he has filed 101 complaints against 101 European companies in 30 different EU and EEA countries with the responsible Data Protection Authorities. Schrems exercised the right to lodge a complaint with the supervisory authority that every data subject has if he or she considers that the processing of personal data relating to him or her infringes the Regulation, pursuant to Art. 77 GDPR.

The complaints concern the companies’ continued use of Google Analytics and Facebook Connect that transfer personal data about each website visitor (at least IP-address and Cookie data) to Google and Facebook which reside in the United States and fall under U.S. surveillance laws, such as FISA 702. Schrems also published a list of the 101 companies which include Sky Deutschland, the University of Luxembourg and the Cyprus Football Association. With his symbolic action against 101 companies, Schrems wanted to point to the widespread inactivity among many companies that still do not take the data protection rights of individuals seriously despite the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

In response, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) has set up a “task force” to handle complaints against European companies using Google Analytics and Facebook services. The taskforce shall analyse the matter and ensure a close cooperation among the members of the Board which consists of all European supervisory authorities as well as the European Data Protection Supervisor.

Brazil Update: Rapid Developments regarding Brazil’s LGPD come with legal Uncertainty

28. August 2020

Earlier this year, in April, the President of Brazil issued Provisional Measure #959/2020, which dealt with emergency measures in face of the pending Coronacrisis. The Provisional Measure (“PM”) did not only set rules for the federal banks’ payments of benefits to workers affected by the reduction in salary and working hours and the temporary suspension of employment due to the pandemic, but also postponed the effective date of Brazil’s first Data Protection Law (“LGPD”) from the 14 August 2020 to the 3 May 2021 (we reported).

In Brazil, PMs serve as temporary law and are valid for a maximum period of 120 days, in which both chambers of the National Congress must approve of the PM in order to become permanent law.

As the 120 days period was coming to an end, the House of Representatives approved of the PM on 25 August 2020, but included an amendment to delay the effective date only to the 31 December 2020. One day later, on 26 August 2020, the Senate approved of the PM, but provided yet another amendment to not include any delay of the LGPD’s effective date at all. The Senate’s amendment rather postulates that violations against the LGPD shall not be santioned by the Data Protection Authority until 1 August 2021. Thus, neither the House of Representative’s postponement to the 31 December 2020 nor the President’s intial postponement to the 3 May 2021 were approved of. This development came to a great surprise because in April, Brazil’s Senate itself introduced  Law Bill “PL 1179/2020” which aimed at postponing the effective date of the LGPD to 1 January 2021.

After all, the LGPD will become effective very soon. Upon the rapid developments regarding the LGPD, legal commentators from Brazil still share some confusion to when the law will become valid exactly. They report that the law will become effective either when the President signs it into law or retroactively on 14 August 2020. In any case, many Brazilian businesses are reportedly not ready for the LGPD whilst also facing a very difficult economic environment, as Brazil is suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.

Moreover, Brazilian businesses are also facing legal uncertainty because Brazil’s national Data Protection Authority (“ANPD”) is still not fully functional. Only on 26 August 2020, Brazil’s President passed Decree 10.474 to establish the ANPD. However, the new Data Protection Law gives the ANPD many vital responsibilities that it has not been able to fulfil, because it hadn’t been established yet. These responsibilities include

  • Recognising good practices and best-in-class examples of accountable privacy programs,
  • Establishing rules, procedures and guidance for organisations as required by the LGPD,
  • Clarifying LGPD provisions,
  • Providing technical standards to organisations, and
  • Enabling international transfers of personal data.

As the recent developments and the status quo of the national Data Protection Authority suggest a rocky road ahead for Brazil’s privacy landscape, the fundamental milestones of making the LGPD effective and establishing the ANPD have been passed now. At the same time, Brazilian businesses can draw hope from the fact that they have time to become compliant until 1 August 2021.

South Africa’s Data Protection Act comes into force

9. July 2020

On July 1, 2020, South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act 2013 finally came into effect. The Act had been in planning for the last seven years, with parts of it already published in 2014, and will fully come into effect with oversight provisions in June 2021, allowing for a 12 months period to enable companies to become compliant with the new regulations.

Due to its long planning period, most companies already have organised compliancy. On the other side, a lot of businesses haven’t taken the necessary steps yet, as they have been waiting for the final push to see if the Act would even come into effect. Full enforcement will be enacted on July 1, 2021, giving those companies a countdown to become compliant.

The initial draft made in 2013 was mainly based on the EU Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, with some changes for stricter provisions. The partial enforcement in 2014 allowed for the establishment of an Information Regulator in 2016, which has released Guidances in light of the future enforcement of the Act.

The right to privacy has been a fundamental right since 1996, and the act aims to promote the protection of personal data for any business processing personal information in South Africa. However, different from a lot of other Data protection Regulations around the world, the South African Protection of Personal Information Act also includes protection of the juristic person, such as companies, banks, trusts, etc.

One of the bigger changes in regards to South Africa’s previous handling of protection of personal data represents the obligation to notify a data breach to the authorities and, in some cases, to the data subjects. It also includes further requirements for international data transfers, as well as finally detailing data subjects’ rights.

Transatlantic Data Transfers in light of the Two Year Anniversary of GDPR Application

7. July 2020

In the last two years since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25, 2018, it has received an overall positive feedback and structured the data protection culture not only in the European Union, but has set an example for international privacy standards.

However, especially from the American side of the world, criticism has been constant. Different principles are a prerequisite for different opinions and priorities, and the effort to bring European data protection standards and American personal data business together has been a challenge on both sides.

One of the main criticisms coming from the US government is the increasing obstacles the GDPR poses in case of cybercrime investigations and law enforcement. Not only the restrictive implications of the GDPR are an issue, but also the divergent interpretations due to national adaptations of the GDPR are seen as a problem by government officials.

In the cases of cybercrime, the main issue for the US critics is the now less effective database of domain name owners, WHOIS. The online directory, which was created in the 1970s, is an important tool for law enforcement combatting cybercrime. Before the GDPR came into effect in 2018, the request for information on domain owners was straightforward. Now, due to the restrictions of the GDPR, this process has been made long and tedious.

But fighting cybercrime is not the only tension between the EU and the USA concerning data protection. In a judgement in the Schrems II case, expected for July 16, 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to take a stance on transatlantic data transfers and the current Privacy Shield, which is the basis for the EU-US dataflows under adequate data protection standards. If the Privacy Shield is deemed insufficient protection, it will have a major effect on EU-US business transactions.

However, these are issues that the European Commission (EC) is very aware of. In their communication concerning the two-year review of the GDPR, the Commission stated that they are planning to balance out diverging and fragmented interpretations of the GDPR on national levels and find a common data protection culture within Europe.

In addition, the restrictions the GDPR poses to law enforcement are another point the European Commission knows it needs to fix. The plan for the future is a bilateral and multilateral framework that can allow for simple requests to share data for law enforcement purposes and avoid conflicts of law, while keeping data protection safeguards intact.

The upcoming judgement of the ECJ is seen with watchful eyes by the Commission, and will be incorporated in their upcoming adequacy decisions and re-evaluations, as well as their development of a modern international transfer toolbox, which includes a modernized version of the standard contractual clauses.

Overall, the two-year mark of the existence of the GDPR is seen more as a success, despite the clear areas for future improvement. One of the big challenges in transatlantic data transfers ahead is without a doubt the outcome of the judgement in the Schrems case in mid-July, the implications of which are, at this point in time, not yet able to be defined.

EDPB releases new official register of Art. 60 GDPR decisions

29. June 2020

On 25 June 2020, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) released a new register of final decisions by national European Data Protection Authorities (Supervisory Authorities) cooperating with one another pursuant to Art. 60 GDPR. The register provides access to the decisions themselves, summaries of the decisions in English, and information on the identity of the cooperating Lead Supervisory Authority and Concerned Supervisory Authorities.

The GDPR postulates that Supervisory Authorities have to cooperate in potential cases of GDPR violations that include cross-border data processing activities. During this cooperation, the Lead Supervisory Authority will be in charge of preparing the draft decision and involving the Concerned Supervisory Authorities, and will act as the sole interlocutor of the Controller or Processor (“One-Stop-Shop”-Principle), Art. 56 and Art. 60 GDPR.

To date, the new EDPB register contains 110 final decisions. The EDPB states in its announcement that ‘the register will be valuable to data protection practitioners who will gain access to information showcasing how SAs work together to enforce the GDPR in practice.’

Germany’s Constitutional Court curbs Federal Intelligence Service’s competence

16. June 2020

In a court ruling from May 19th 2020 with regards to the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and their manner of operation, the German Constitutional Court has proclaimed that the BND is bound by fundamental rights in cases of surveillance of foreigners, even outside of Germany’ federal territory.

 Background

The case, which was brought to the court in the manner of a constitutional complaint by a collective of foreign journalists, found its origin initially through the disclosures made by Edward Snowden back in 2013, where some of the BND’s practices in relation to strategic foreign surveillance came to light. In 2016, German legislators passed a new law with the purpose to regulate surveillance done by the BND. However, that new law mainly restricted surveillance of German citizens, as well as foreigner living in Germany. It has been criticized that the new law did nothing to restrict and regulate the BND’s actions abroad by not having to abide by any legal provisions. The constitutional complaint brought to the German Constitutional Court deals with strategic surveillance from foreign reporters and journalists with regards to their highly confidential data necessary to perform their work through the BND, which risks to be exchanged with their own country’s intelligence agencies and in the process put them at risk of federal measures taken against them.

The key points

Territorial Scope. One of the biggest points of the court ruling has been the definition of the territorial scope of the fundamental rights at risk in this case. Since the complainants are journalists from outside the German territory, the Constitutional Court had to specify if the constitutional rights that would shield them from surveillance by the BND would find application in the matter. In this instance, the court has ruled that the fundamental rights are not limited to the German territory, but rather apply wherever the German state authority is acting. This is derived from Art. 1 III of the German Constitution (GG), which binds the German state authority to conformity with the Constitution. In such, as the fundamental rights from Art. 10 I, Art. 5 I GG are not simply applicable to Germans, the Constitutional Court has extended the range of application to foreigners in foreign countries, and given them international importance.

Current legislation is unconstitutional. In effect, the Constitutional Court has further analysed the new intelligence law from 2016, and ruled it unconstitutional in the current state. The main reason is that, due to the fact that the legislators assumed that the fundamental rights did not apply, they did not conform with the requirements set out in the Constitution for such law. In such, the new law violates the privacy of telecommunications and its requirements from Art. 10 I GG, and in addition does not meet the key requirements deriving from other fundamental rights, such as Art. 19 I GG. However, the Constitutional Court has stated that the law can be amended to follow fundamental rights and comply with the constitution. The court declared several points which are necessary to implement in the amended law, some of which we will present further below.

Independent oversight. The Constitutional Court stated that in order to ensure conformity with the Constitution and regulate the BND in a way that would ensure the protection of fundamental rights of the people under surveillance, it would be necessary to establish a new, independent oversight regime that would act to judge and regulate strategic surveillance. Its main purposes would be the legal oversight of the BND and protection of the surveillance subjects, as well as the control of the surveillance process, from the analysing of data to the transfer of information between agencies, etc.

Legislative suggestions. In the ruling of the case, the Constitutional Court also made a few suggestions in regards to potential statutory regulation in order to regulate the BND and its area of action better than it was in the past. Part of those suggestions were the necessity of defining the purpose of surveillance measures with precision and clarity, in order to ensure transparency, as well as the necessity for the legislator to set out essential framework for the analysis of the collected data, like a cease in analysis as soon as it becomes clear that the surveillance has touched the core of private life. The court also suggested that special requirements have to apply to the protection of professional groups with communications of increased confidentiality, and that the surveillance in these cases must be tied to qualified thresholds. The court also mentioned the storage and deletion of surveillance data, stating that the traffic data obtained should not be stored for longer than six months, while a systematic deletion policy needs to be established. In the terms of the transfer of information to other (foreign) intelligence agencies, the Constitutional Court made it clear that such transfers will need an official statutory basis in order to be lawful.

The court has given the German government until the end of 2021 to amend the law and make statutory changes to comply with the ruling and the decision of the international scope of the fundamental rights. While this may seem like a big set back for the BND, it is a chance to show that intelligence agencies can work on a high constitutional standard while also being successful in their purpose.

The Video-conference service Zoom and its Data Security issues

20. April 2020

Amidst the Corona crisis, the video communications service Zoom gained enormous popularity. The rate of daily Zoom users skyrocketed from 10 Mio in December 2019 to 200 Mio in March 2020. As it outshined many of its competitors, Zoom labels itself as “the leader in modern enterprise video communications”. However, the company has been facing a lot of public criticism because of its weaknesses in data security and lack of awareness in data protection matters.

Basic data security weaknesses unfolded little by little starting in March 2020:

  • Zoom had to admit that it was wrongly advertising to provide full end-to-end encryption for all shared contents like video, audio or screen sharing.
  • Security experts revealed several bugs that could have allowed webcam and mic hijacking and the theft of login credentials.
  • An online Tech Magazine reported that Zoom leaked thousands of their users’ email addresses and photos to strangers.
  • Video-conferences which users did not protect with a password, enabled “Zoombombing”, a phenomenon in which strangers hijacked videocalls and disrupted them by posting pornographic and racist images as well as spamming the conversations with threatening language. In response, Zoom introduced the Waiting Room feature and additional password settings.

At the same time, Zoom’s data privacy practices came under scrutiny:

  • Zoom shared web analytics data with third-party companies for advertising purposes without having a legal basis or notifying users about this practice. In response to criticism, Zoom revised its privacy policy and now declares that it does not share data from meetings for advertising.
  • The company also shared more analytics data of its users with Facebook than stated on Zoom’s privacy policy, even if the user did not sign in with their Facebook account. Zoom introduced an update in which this sharing is terminated.
  • The New York Times revealed that Zoom used a data mining feature that matched Zoom users’ names and email addresses to their LinkedIn profiles without the users knowing about it. Zoom then enabled automatic sharing of the matched LinkedIn profiles with other meeting members that were subscribers of a LinkedIn service for sales prospecting (“LinkedIn Sales Navigator”). In response to criticism, Zoom removed this feature permanently.
  • Zoom hosted a feature called Attention Tracking, which let the meeting’s host know when an attendee had clicked away the meeting window for more than 30 seconds. In the meantime, Zoom disabled the feature.

The security and privacy issues of Zoom have led various public authorities and companies internationally to ban their workers from using the service.

On 1 April 2020, Zoom’s founder and CEO Eric S. Yuan announced a 90-day plan to significantly improve their data security in an effort to build greater trust with their users. This plan includes freezing the introduction of new features, enlarge their cybersecurity team and engage outside help from security advisors.

EDPS publishes opinion on future EU-UK partnership

3. March 2020

On 24 February 2020, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) published an opinion on the opening of negotiations for the future partnership between the EU and the UK with regards to personal data protection.

In his opinion, the EDPS points out the importance of commitments to fully respect fundamental rights in the future envisaged comprehensive partnership. Especially with regards to the protection of personal data, the partnership shall uphold the high protection level of the EU’s personal data rules.

With respect to the transfer of personal data, the EDPS further expresses support for the EU Commission’s recommendation to work towards the adoption of adequacy decisions for the UK if the relevant conditions are met. However, the Commission must ensure that the UK is not lowering its data protection standard below the EU standard after the Brexit transition period. Lastly, the EDPS recommends the EU Institutions to also prepare for a potential scenario in which no adequacy decisions exist by the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

India updates privacy bill

12. December 2019

The new update of the Indian Personal Data Protection Bill is part of India’s broader efforts to tightly control the flow of personal data.

The bill’s latest version enpowers the government to ask companies to provide anonymized personal data, as well as other non-personal data in order to help to deliver governmental services and privacy policies. The draft defines “personal data” as information that can help to identify a person and also has characteristics, traits and any other features of a person’s identity. “Sensitive personal data” also includes financial and biometric data. According to the draft, such “sensitive” data can be transferred outside India for processing, but must be stored locally.

Furthermore, social media platforms will be required to offer a mechanism for users to prove their identities and display a verification sign publicly. Such requirements would raise a host of technical issues for companies such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

As a result, the new bill could affect the way companies process, store and transfer Indian consumers’ data. Therefore, it could cause some difficulties for top technology companies.

EU-US Privacy Shield and SCCs facing legal challenge before the EU High Courts

3. July 2019

Privacy Shield, established between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (US) as a replacement of the fallen Safe Harbor agreement, has been under scrutiny from the moment it entered into effect. Based on the original claims by Max Schrems in regards to Safe Harbor (C-362/14), the EU-US data transfer agreement has been challenged in two cases, one of which will be heard by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in early July.

In this case, as in 2015, Mr. Schrems bases his claims elementally on the same principles. The contention is the unrestricted access of US agencies to European’s personal data. Succeeding hearings in 2017, the Irish High Court found and raised 11 questions in regards to the adequacy of the level of protection to the CJEU. The hearing before the CJEU is scheduled for July 9th. The second case, originally planned to be heard on July 1st and 2nd, has been brought to the General Court of the European Union by the French digital rights group La Quadrature du Net in conjunction with the French Data Net and Fédération FDN. Their concerns revolve around the inadequacy of the level of protection given by the Privacy Shield and its mechanisms.
This hearing, however, has been cancelled by the General Court of the EU only days prior to its date, which was announced by La Quadrature du Net through tweet.

Despite the criticism of the agreement, the European Commission has noted improvements to the level of security of the Privacy Shield in their second review of the agreement dating from December 2018. The US Senate confirmed Keith Krach as Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment, with his duties to include being the permanent ombudsman in regards to the Privacy Shield and the EU data protection, on June 20th 2019.

As it is, both cases are apt to worry companies that rely on being certified by the Privacy Shield or the use of SCCs. With the uncertainty that comes with these questions, DPOs will be looking for new ways to ensure the data flow between Europe and the US. The European Commission stated that it wants to make it easier for companies in the future to comply with data transfers under the GDPR. It plans to update the SCCs to the requirements of the GDPR, providing a contractual mechanism for international transfers. Nonetheless, it is unclear when those updates are happening, and they may be subject to legal challenge based on the future Schrems ruling.

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