Category: right to be forgotten

Swedish court confirms Google’s violations of the GDPR

16. December 2020

The Administrative Court of Stockholm announced on November 23rd, 2020, that it had rejected Google LLC’s appeal against the decision of the Swedish Data Protection Authority (Datainspektionen) determining Google’s violations of the GDPR. Google as a search engine operator had not fulfilled its obligations regarding the right to be forgotten (RTBF). However, the court reduced the fine from a total of SEK 75 million (approx. € 7,344,000) to SEK 52 million (approx. € 5,091,000).

Background to the case was the Swedish DPA’s audit in 2017 concerning Google’s handling of requests on delisting, which means removal of certain results from a search engine. The DPA concluded the inspection by ordering Google to delist certain individuals’ names due to inaccuracy, irrelevance and superfluous information. In 2018 the DPA initiated a follow-up audit because of indications that Google had not fully complied with the previously issued order. It resulted in issuing an administrative fine of SEK 75 million in March 2020.

The DPA raised attention to the fact that the GDPR increases the obligations of data controllers and data processors as well as strengthens the rights of individuals, which include the right to have their search result delisted. Though, Google has not been fully complying with its obligations, as it has not properly removed two of the search result listings that the DPA had ordered to delete. In one case Google has done a too narrow interpretation of what web addresses to remove, in the other case Google has failed to remove it without undue delay.

Moreover, the DPA criticized Google’s procedure of managing delisting requests and found it to be undermining data subjects’ rights. Following the removal of a search result listing, Google notifies the website to which the link is directed. The delisting request form, directed to the data subject raising the request, states that information on the removed web addresses can be provided to the webmaster. This information has to be seen as misleading since the data subject is made to understand that its consent to the notification is required in order to process the request. Therefore, such practice might result in individuals refraining from exercising their right to request delisting, which violates Art. 5 (1) lit. a) GDPR. What’s more, in the opinion of the DPA the delisting notifications to the webmasters are not covered by legal obligations according to Art. 6 (1) lit. c), 17 (2) GDPR, nor legitimate interests pursuant to Art. 6 (1) lit. f) GDPR. Also, Google’s routine of regularly sending information to webmasters constitutes processing of personal data being incompatible with the purpose for which the data was originally collected. This practice infringes Art. 5 (1) lit. b), 6 (4) GDPR.

Google appealed the decision of the DPA. Though, the Swedish Administrative Court of Stockholm reaffirmed the DPA’s opinion and confirmed Google’s violations of the GDPR.

The court stated that the process concerning delisting requests must facilitate for the individual to exercise its rights. That means, any process that restricts the individuals’ rights may violate Art. 15 through 22 GDPR. The court also specified why the personal data had been processed beyond their original purpose. Since the notifications are only sent after Google has removed a search result, the purpose of the processing has already expired when the notification is sent. Thus, the notification cannot be considered effective in achieving the purpose specified by Google.

Google shall now delist specific search results and cease to inform webmasters of requests. Also, Google must adapt its data subject rights procedure within eight weeks after the court’s judgment has gained legal force.

Decision to fine the Norwegian Public Roads Administration

23. October 2020

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority (Datatilsynet) has issued the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (Statens vegvesen) a fine of EUR 37.400 (NOK 400.000) for improprieties related to the use of the monitoring system installed on toll ways in Norway. They concerned processing personal data for purposes that were noncompliant with the originally stated and for not erasing video recordings after 7 days from their registration.

The penalized entity is the controller of a system processing personal data obtained from the area of ​​toll roads in Norway. This system records personal data which especially enable the identification of vehicles (and hence their owners) that pass through public toll stations. The primary purpose of processing these personal data was to ensure safety on public roads and to optimize the operation of the tunnel and drawbridges in the county Østfold. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration however, used the recordings particularly in order to document improper fulfilments of concluded contracts by certain subjects. According to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, such procedure is unlawful and not compliant with the originally stated purposes.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration was also accused of infringements related to deletion of personal data in due time. In accordance with Norwegian regulations, recordings from monitoring (and thus personal data) may be stored until the reason for its storage ceases, but no longer than 7 days from recording the material. In the course of proceedings it turned out that the monitoring system did not have the function of deleting personal data at all. Therefore, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration was not able to fulfil its obligation according to Art. 17 GDPR. The lack of this functionality additionally indicates that the controller, while implementing the monitoring system, also omitted the requirements specified in Art. 25 GDPR.

Taking into account these circumstances, the Norwegian Data Protection Authority stated a violation of the mentioned GDPR regulations.

Indonesian President introduces a Proposal for a national Data Protection Law

5. February 2020

On 28 January 2020, Indonesian President Joko Widodo introduced a draft data protection law to the Parliament of Indonesia. When the bill passes through Parliament, Indonesia will be the fifth country in Southeast Asia to have a national data protection law, following Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

The proposal has numerous parallels to the European GDPR. It grants an array of data subject rights, like the right to access, the right to erasure and the right to restrict processing of personal data. The bill also contains a broad definition of processing and the general principle of consent, whilst allowing the processing of personal data for the performance of a contract, for compliance with a legal obligation, or for the purposes of legitimate interests.

Interestingly, the bill categorises violations against the data protection rules as criminal offenses and punishes intentional unlawful processing with up to 7 years of criminal imprisonment or punitive fines of up to 70 billion Indonesian Rupiah (4.6 million Euros). If the offender of the law is a corporation, the management or beneficiary owner can be held liable and face a prison sentence.

The Indonesian Minister of Communications and Information stresses the importance of the new date protection bill for the data sovereignty of individuals and hopes for opportunities for innovation and business in Indonesia.

CJEU rules that Right To Be Forgotten is only applicable in Europe

27. September 2019

In a landmark case on Tuesday the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that Google will not have to apply the General Data Privacy Regulation’s (GDPR) “Right to be Forgotten” to its search engines outside of the European Union. The ruling is a victory for Google in a case against a fine imposed by the french Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) in 2015 in an effort to force the company and other search engines to take down links globally.

Seeing as the internet has grown into a worldwide media net with no borders, this case is viewed as a test of wether people can demand a blanket removal of information about themselves from searches without overbearing on the principles of free speech and public interest. Around the world, it has also been perceived as a trial to see if the European Union can extend its laws beyond its own borders.

“The balance between right to privacy and protection of personal data, on the one hand, and the freedom of information of internet users, on the other, is likely to vary significantly around the world,” the court stated in its decision.The Court also expressed in the judgement that the protection of personal data is not an absolute right.

While this leads to companies not being forced to delete sensitive information on their search engines outside of the EU upon request, they must take precautions to seriously discourage internet users from going onto non-EU versions of their pages. Furthermore, companies with search engines within the EU will have to closely weigh freedom of speech against the protection of privacy, keeping the currently common case to case basis for deletion requests.

In effect, since the Right to be Forgotten had been first determined by the CJEU in 2014, Google has since received over 3,3 million deletion requests. In 45% of the cases it has complied with the delisting of links from its search engine. As it stands, even while complying with deletion requests, the delisted links within the EU search engines can still be accessed by using VPN and gaining access to non-EU search engines, circumventing the geoblocking. This is an issue to which a solution has not yet been found.

Will Visa Applicants for the USA have to reveal their Social Media Identities in future?

11. January 2018

The U.S. Department of State is aiming for Visa applicants to answer supplemental questions, including information about social media. A 30-Day notice has been published in November in order to gather opinions from all interested individuals and organizations. The goal is to establish a legal basis for the “proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits”.

In concrete terms, applicants are supposed to reveal their social media identifiers used during the last five years. The State Department stresses the fact that “the collection of social media platforms and identifiers will not be used to deny visas based on applicants’ race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, gender, or sexual orientation.”

Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has submitted its comments asking for withdrawal of the proposal to collect social media identifiers and for review of the appropriateness of using social media to make visa determinations.

EPIC not only critizes the lack of transparency as it is “not clear how the State Department intends to use the social media identifiers” and further continues that “the benefits for national security” don’t seem precise. The organization also expresses concerns because the collection of these data enable enhanced profiling and tracking of individuals as well as large scale surveillance of innocent people, maybe even leading to secret profiles.

It remains to be seen how the situation develops and how the public opinion influences the outcome.

The application of the right to be forgotten in France challenged by Wikimedia

24. October 2016

Since the ECJ established the right to be delisted from search engines (right to be forgotten) in 2014, Google has received numerous requests from individuals and organizations regarding the deletion of search results that contain their personal data which is not any more current, correct, relevant or which causes damages to the data subjects. The right to be forgotten refers to certain domains, such as co.uk; fr, de, es or nl.

However the French DPA requested Google to delete these results from all Google search domains (including .com). As Google did not fully comply with this request, the French DPA (CNIL) imposed Google a fine early this year.

As the French Highest Court has still to decide about this, Wikimedia, the parent company of Wikipedia, filed a petition in order to take part in the case and support Google France regarding the ongoing dispute about implementation of the “right to be forgotten”. Wikimedia’s legal counsel said in a statement that “no single nation should attempt to control what information the entire world may access”. Furthermore, she added that the application of the right to be forgotten involves the disappearance of several Wikimedia websites, which has an impact on the availability of knowledge.

Not only in France, but also in other jurisdictions is Google facing similar processes regarding the application of the right to be forgotten.