Category: Personal Data

Berlin commissioner for data protection imposes fine on real estate company

6. November 2019

On October 30th, 2019, the Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information issued a fine of around 14.5 million euros against the real estate company Deutsche Wohnen SE for violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

During on-site inspections in June 2017 and March 2019, the supervisory authority determined that the company used an archive system for the storage of personal data of tenants that did not provide for the possibility of removing data that was no longer required. Personal data of tenants were stored without checking whether storage was permissible or even necessary. In individual cases, private data of the tenants concerned could therefore be viewed, even though some of them were years old and no longer served the purpose of their original survey. This involved data on the personal and financial circumstances of tenants, such as salary statements, self-disclosure forms, extracts from employment and training contracts, tax, social security and health insurance data and bank statements.

After the commissioner had made the urgent recommendation to change the archive system in the first test date of 2017, the company was unable to demonstrate either a cleansing of its database nor legal reasons for the continued storage in March 2019, more than one and a half years after the first test date and nine months after the GDPR came into force. Although the enterprise had made preparations for the removal of the found grievances, nevertheless these measures did not lead to a legal state with the storage of personal data. Therefore the imposition of a fine was compelling because of a violation of article 25 Abs. 1 GDPR as well as article 5 GDPR for the period between May 2018 and March 2019.

The starting point for the calculation of fines is, among other things, the previous year’s worldwide sales of the affected companies. According to its annual report for 2018, the annual turnover of Deutsche Wohnen SE exceeded one billion euros. For this reason, the legally prescribed framework for the assessment of fines for the established data protection violation amounted to approximately 28 million euros.

For the concrete determination of the amount of the fine, the commissioner used the legal criteria, taking into account all burdening and relieving aspects. The fact that Deutsche Wohnen SE had deliberately set up the archive structure in question and that the data concerned had been processed in an inadmissible manner over a long period of time had a particularly negative effect. However, the fact that the company had taken initial measures to remedy the illegal situation and had cooperated well with the supervisory authority in formal terms was taken into account as a mitigating factor. Also with regard to the fact that the company was not able to prove any abusive access to the data stored, a fine in the middle range of the prescribed fine framework was appropriate.

In addition to sanctioning this violation, the commissioner imposed further fines of between 6,000 and 17,000 euros on the company for the inadmissible storage of personal data of tenants in 15 specific individual cases.

The decision on the fine has not yet become final. Deutsche Wohnen SE can lodge an appeal against this decision.

 The Netherlands passed new law on the use of passenger data

31. October 2019

In June 2019 the Netherlands adopted a new law concerning the processing and sharing of passenger data by airlines. Since the 18 June 2019, airlines are now required to share passenger data with a newly established passenger information unit  (‘Pi-NL’) for all flights that depart from the Netherlands or arrive in the Netherlands. The passenger data to be passed on include, for example nationality, full name, date of birth, number and type of travel documents used.

The new established specialised unit will be independent with its own statustory task and authorisations and will collect,process and analyse passenger data and share it with the competent authorities such as the police, Public Prosecution and with comparable units in other Member States oft he EU and with Europol, if necessary. It falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice and Security. The purpose of such data processing is to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorist offences and serious criminal offences.

This law implements the European PNR (Passenger Name Record) directive in Dutch law. The aim of the PNR directive is to ensure internal security within the European Union and to protect the life and safety of persons. It will also promote more effective cooperation between EU Member States.

In drafting this law, the Dutch gorvernment weighed the importance of combating terrorism against the privacy interests of passengers.  Therefore the newly introduced law also contains a number of data protection safeguards and guarantees, such as a limitation on the retention period, a processing prohibition on special categories of personal data and strict conditions for the exchange of such data with other states and the requirement that the Pi-NL appoint a data protection officer.

China publishes provisions on the protection of personal data of children

10. October 2019

On 23 August 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of China published regulations on the cyber protection of personal data of children, which came into force on 1 October 2019. China thus enacted the first rules focusing exclusively on the protection of children’s personal data.

In the regulations, “children” refers to minors under the age of 14. This corresponds to the definition in the national “Information Security Technology – Personal Information Security Specification”.

The provisions regulate activities related to the collection, storage, use, transfer and disclosure of personal data of children through networks located on the territory of China. However, the provisions do not apply to activities conducted outside of China or to similar activities conducted offline.

The provisions provide a higher standard of consent than the Cybersecurity Law of China. To obtain the consent of a guardian, a network operator has to provide the possibility of refusal and expressly inform the guardian of the following:

  • Purpose, means and scope of collection, storage, use, transfer and disclosure of children’s personal information;
  • Storage location of children’s personal information, retention period and how the relevant information will be handled after expiration of the retention period;
  • Safeguard measures protecting children’s personal information;
  • Consequences of rejection by a guardian;
  • The channels and means of filing or reporting complaints; and
  • How to correct and delete children’s personal information.

The network operator also has to restrict internal access to children’s personal information. In particular, before accessing the information, personnel must obtain consent of the person responsible for the protection of children’s personal data or an authorised administrator.

If children’s personal data are processed by a third party processor, the network operator is obliged to carry out a security assessment of the data processor commissioned to process the children’s personal data. He also has to conclude an entrustment agreement with the data processor. The data processor is obliged to support the network operator in fulfilling the request of the guardian to delete the data of a child after termination of the service. Subletting or subcontracting by the data processor is prohibited.

If personal data of children is transferred to a third party, the network operator shall carry out a security assessment of the commissioned person or commission a third party to carry out such an assessment.

Children or their legal guardians have the right to demand the deletion of children’s personal data under certain circumstances. In any case, they have the right to demand the correction of personal data of children if they are collected, stored, used or disclosed by a network operator. In addition, the legal guardians have the right to withdraw their consent in its entirety.

In the event of actual or potential data breaches, the network operator is obliged to immediately initiate its emergency plan and take remedial action. If the violation has or may have serious consequences, the network operator must immediately report the violation to the competent authorities and inform the affected children and their legal guardians by e-mail, letter, telephone or push notification. Where it is challenging to send the notification to any data subject, the network operator shall take appropriate and effective measures to make the notification public. However, the rules do not contain a precise definition of the serious consequences.

In the event that the data breach is caused or observed by a data processor, the data processor is obliged to inform the network operator in good time.

Data Breach: Millions of patient data available on the Internet

20. September 2019

As reported by the US investment platform ProPublica and the German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, millions of highly sensitive patient data were discovered freely accessible on the Internet.

Among the data sets are high-resolution X-ray images, breast cancer screenings, CT scans and other medical images. Most of them are provided with personal data such as birth dates, names and information about their doctor and their medical treatment. The data could be found for years on unprotected servers.

In Germany, around 13,000 data records are affected, and more than 16 million worldwide, including more than 5 million patients in the USA.

When X-ray or MRI images of patients are taken, they are stored on “Picture Archiving Communication System” (PACS) servers. If these servers are not sufficiently secured, it is easy to access the data. In 2016, Oleg Pianykh, Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, published a study on unsecured PACS servers. He was able to locate more than 2700 open systems, but the study did not prompt anyone in the industry to act.

The German Federal Ministry for Information Security has now informed authorities in 46 countries. Now it remains to be seen how they will react to the incident.

Ecuadorian Data Breach reveals Data of over 20 Million People

19. September 2019

On Monday, 16th of September, it has been revealed that the detailed information of potencially every citizen of Ecuador has been freely available online as part of a massive data breach resulting from an incorrectly configured database. The leak, detected by security researchers of vpnMentor during a routine large-scale web mapping project, exposed more than 20 million individuals, inclusing close to 7 million children, giving access to 18 GB of data.

In effect Ecuador counts close to 17 million citizens, making it possible that almost every citizen has had some data compromised. This also includes government officials, high profile persons like Julian Assange, and the Ecuadorian President.

In their report, vpnMentor designates that it was able to track the server back to its owner, an ecuadorian company named Novaestrat, which is a consulting company providing services in data analytics, strategic marketing and software development.

It also mentioned several examples of the entries it had found in the database, including the types of data that were leaked. Those came down to full names, gender and birth information, home and e-mail adresses, telephone numbers, financial information, family members and employment information.

Access to the data has been cut off by the ecuadorian Computer Emergency Response Team, but the highly private and sensitive nature of the leaked information could create long lasting privacy issues for the citizens of the country.

In a twitter post, Telecommunications Minister Andres Michelena announced that the data protection bill, which had been in the works for months, will be submitted to the National Assembly within 72 hours. On top of that, an investigation into the possibility of a violation of personal privacy by Novaestrat has been opened.

High Court dismisses challenge regarding Automated Facial Recognition

12. September 2019

On 4 September, the High Court of England and Wales dismissed a challenge to the police’s use of Automated Facial Recognition Technology (“AFR”). The court ruled that the use of AFR was proportionate and necessary to meet the legal obligations of the police.

The pilot project AFR Locate was used for certain events and public places when the commission of crimes was likely. Up to 50 faces per second can be detected. The faces are then compared by biometric data analysis with wanted persons registered in police databases. If no match is found the images are deleted immediately and automatically.

An individual has initiated a judicial review process after he has not been identified as a wanted person, but is likely to have been captured by AFR Locate. He considered this to be illegal, in particular due to a violation of the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) and data protection law in the United Kingdom. In his view, the police did not respect the data protection principles. In particular, that approach would violate the principle of Article 35 of the Data Protection Act 2018 (“DPA 2018”), which requires the processing of personal data for law enforcement purposes to be lawful and fair. He also pointed out that the police had failed to carry out an adequate data protection impact assessment (“DPIA”).

The Court stated that the use of AFR has affected a person’s rights under Article 8 of the ECHR and that this type of biometric data has a private character in itself. Despite the fact that the images were erased immediately, this procedure constituted an interference with Article 8 of the ECHR, since it suffices that the data is temporarily stored.

Nevertheless, the Court found that the police’s action was in accordance with the law, as it falls within the police’s public law powers to prevent and detect criminal offences. The Court also found that the use of the AFR system is proportionate and that the technology can be used openly, transparently and with considerable public commitment, thus fulfilling all existing criteria. It was only used for a limited period, for a specific purpose and published before it was used (e.g. on Facebook and Twitter).

With regard to data protection law, the Court considers that the images of individuals captured constitute personal data, even if they do not correspond to the lists of persons sought, because the technology has singled them out and distinguished them from others. Nevertheless, the Court held that there was no violation of data protection principles, for the same reasons on which it denied a violation of Art. 8 ECHR. The Court found that the processing fulfilled the conditions of legality and fairness and was necessary for the legitimate interest of the police in the prevention and detection of criminal offences, as required by their public service obligations. The requirement of Sec. 35 (5) DPA 2018 that the processing is absolutely necessary was fulfilled, as was the requirement that the processing is necessary for the exercise of the functions of the police.

The last requirement under Sec. 35 (5) of the DPA 2018 is that a suitable policy document is available to regulate the processing. The Court considered the relevant policy document in this case to be short and incomplete. Nevertheless, it refused to give a judgment as to whether the document was adequate and stated that it would leave that judgment to the Information Commissioner Office (“ICO”), as it would publish more detailed guidelines.

Finally, the Court found that the impact assessment carried out by the police was sufficient to meet the requirements of Sec. 64 of DPA 2018.

The ICO stated that it would take into account the High Court ruling when finalising its recommendations and guidelines for the use of live face recognition systems.

Irish DPC releases guide on Data Breach Notifications

15. August 2019

On Monday the Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) has released a quick guide on Data Breach Notifications. It is supposed to help controllers understand their obligations regarding notification and communication requirements, both to the responsible DPC and to the data subject.

The guide, which is supposed to be a quick overview of the requirements and obligations which fall on data controllers, refers to the Article 29 Working Party’s (now European Data Protection Board or EDPB), much more in depth and detailed, guidance in their guideline concerning Data Breach Notifications.

In summary, the IDPC categorizes a Data Breach as a “security incident that negatively impacts the confidentiality, integrity or availability of personal data; meaning that the controller is unable to ensure compliance with the principles relating to the processing of personal data as outlined in Art. 5 GDPR”. In this case, it falls to the controller to follow two primary obligations: (1) to notify the responsible DPC of the data breach, unless it is unlikely to result in a risk for the data subject, and (2) to communicate the data breach to the affected data subjects, when it is likely to result in a high risk.

The IDPC seeks to help controllers by providing a list of requirements in cases of notification to the DPC and data subjects, especially given the tight timeframe for notifications to be filed within 72 hours of awareness of the breach. It is hoping to eliminate confusion arising in the process, as well as problems that companies have had while filing a Data Breach Notification in the past.

EDPB adopts Guidelines on processing of personal data through video devices

13. August 2019

Recently, the EDPB has adopted its Guidelines on processing of personal data through video devices (“the guidelines”). The guidelines provide assistance on how to apply the GDPR in cases of processing through video devices with several examples, which are not exhaustive but applicable for all areas of using video devices.

In a first step, the guidelines set the scope of application. The GDPR is only applicable for the use of video devices if

  • personal data is collected through the video device ( e.g. a person is identifiable on basis of their looks or other specific elements)
  • the processing is not carried out by competent authorities for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, or,
  • the so-called “household exemption” does not apply (processing by a natural person in the course of personal or household activity).

Before processing personal data through video devices, controllers must specify their legal basis for it. According to the guidelines, every legal ground under Article 6 (1) can provide a legal basis. The purposes for using video devices for processing personal data should be documented in writing and specified for every camera in use.

Another subject of the guidelines is the transparency of the processing. The controllers have to inform data subjects about the video surveillance. The EDPB recommends a layered approach and combining several methods to ensure transparency. The most important information should be written on the warning sign itself (first layer) and the other mandatory details may be provided by other means (second layer). The second layer must also be easily accessible for data subjects.

The guidelines also deal with storage periods and technical and organizational measures (TOMs). In some member states may be specific provisions for storing video surveillance footage, but it is recommended to – ideally automatically – delete the personal data after a few days. As with any kind of data processing, the controller must adequately secure it and therefore must have implemented technical and organizational measures. Examples provided are masking or scrambling areas that are not relevant to surveillance, or the editing out of images of third persons, when providing video footage to data subjects.

Until September 9th 2019, the guidelines will be open for public consultation and a final and revised version is planned for the end of 2019.

Amazon lets Alexa recordings evaluate by timeworkers in home-office

5. August 2019

According to a report by German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, Amazon has Alexa’s voice recordings listened to not only by its own employees, but also by Polish temporary workers.

For some time now, Amazon has been the subject of criticism because the recordings of the Alexa language assistant are listened to and typed in by employees in order to improve speech recognition. For a long time, however, the users were unaware of this long-standing practice.

It has now become known that temporary workers in the home office listen to and evaluate the recordings using a remote work program. Until recently, a Polish recruitment agency advertised “teleworking all over the country”, although Amazon had previously assured that the voice recordings would only be evaluated in specially protected offices. However, one of the Polish temporary workers stated that many of them would work from home and that among the records were personal data such as names or places that allowed conclusions to be drawn about the person.

Upon request, Amazon confirmed the research results. A spokesman said that some employees were allowed to work from other locations than the Amazon offices, but that particularly strict rules would have to be observed. In particular, working in public places is not allowed.

On the same day, the online job advertisements were deleted and Amazon offered a new data protection option. Users can now explicitly object and block their recording for post-processing by Amazon employees.

Other language assistants have also been or are to be suspended from language evaluation, at least for European users. According to Google, around 0.2 % of the recordings are listened to subsequently, while Apple and Amazon say it is less than 1 %. Google already deactivated the function three months ago and Apple also wants to suspend the evaluation and explicitly ask its users later whether an evaluation may be resumed.

FaceApp reacts to privacy concerns

22. July 2019

The picture editing app FaceApp, which became increasingly popular on social media, was confronted with various concerns about their privacy.

Created in Russia by a four-person start-up company, the app applies a newly developed technology that uses neural networks to modify a face in any photo while remaining photorealistic. In this process, no filters are placed on the photo, but the image itself is modified with the help of deep learning technology.

However, the app is accused of not explaining that the images are uploaded to a cloud for editing. In addition, the app is accused of uploading not only the image selected by the user, but also the entire camera roll in the background. The latter in particular raises high security concerns due to the large number of screenshots that people nowadays take of sensitive information such as access data or bank details.

While there is no evidence for the latter accusation and FaceApp emphasizes in its statement that no image other than the one chosen by the user is uploaded, they confirm the upload into a cloud.

The upload to the cloud justifies FaceApp with reasons of performance and traffic. With this, the app developers want to ensure that the user does not upload the photo repeatedly during each editing process.

Finally, FaceApp declares that no user data will be sold or passed on to third parties. Also, in 99 % of cases, they are unable to identify a person because the app can be and actually is used without registration by a large number of users.

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