Category: The Netherlands

Dutch data scandal: illegal trade of COVID-19 patient data

19. February 2021

In recent months, a RTL Nieuws reporter Daniël Verlaan has discovered widespread trade in the personal data of Dutch COVID-19 test subjects. He found ads consisting of photos of computer screens listing data of Dutch citizens. Apparently, the data had been offered for sale on various instant messaging apps such as Telegram, Snapchat and Wickr. The prices ranged from €30 to €50 per person. The data included home addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and BSN identifiers (Dutch social security number).

The personal data were registered in the two main IT systems of the Dutch Municipal Health Service (GGD) – CoronIT, containing details about citizens who took a COVID-19 test, and HPzone Light, a contact-tracing system, which contains the personal data of people infected with the coronavirus.

After becoming aware of the illegal trade, the GGD reported it to the Dutch Data Protection Authority and the police. The cybercrime team of the Midden-Nederland police immediately started an investigation. It showed that at least two GGD employees had maliciously stolen the data, as they had access to the official Dutch government COVID-19 systems and databases. Within 24 hours of the complaint, two men were arrested. Several days later, a third suspect was tracked down as well. The investigation continues, since the extent of the data theft is unclear and whether the suspects in fact managed to sell the data. Therefore, more arrests are certainly not excluded.

Chair of the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure, Victor Gevers, told ZDNet in an interview:

Because people are working from home, they can easily take photos of their screens. This is one of the issues when your administrative staff is working from home.

Many people expressed their disapproval of the insufficient security measures concerning the COVID-19 systems. Since the databases include very sensitive data, the government has a duty to protect these properly in order to prevent criminal misuse. People must be able to rely on their personal data being treated confidentially.

In a press release, the Dutch police also raised awareness of the cybercrime risks, like scam or identity fraud. Moreover, they informed about the possibilities of protection against such crimes and the need to report them. This prevents victims and allows the police to immediately track down suspects and stop their criminal practices.

GDPR fines and data breach reports increased in 2020

12. February 2021

In 2020 a total of €158.5 million in fines were imposed, research by DLA Piper shows. This represents a 39% increase compared to the 20 months the GDPR was previously in force since May 25th, 2018.

Since that date, a total of € 272.5 million in fines have been imposed across Europe under the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). Italian authorities imposed a total of € 69.3 million, German authorities € 69.1 million, and French authorities 54.4 million. This calculation does not include two fines against Google LLC and Google Ireland Limited totalling € 100 million  (€ 60million + € 40million) and a fine of € 35 million against Amazon Europe Core issued by the French data protection authority “Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés” (“CNIL”) on December 10th, 2020, (please see our respective blog post), as proceedings on these fines are pending before the Conseil d’Etat.

A total of 281,000 data breaches were reported during this period, although the countries that imposed the highest fines were not necessarily those where the most data breaches were reported. While Germany and the UK can be found in the top of both lists, with 77,747 data breaches reported in Germany, 30,536 in the UK and 66,527 in the Netherlands, only 5,389 data breaches were reported in France and only 3,460 in Italy.

Although the biggest imposed fine to date still is a fine of € 50 million issued by CNIL against Google LLC in January 2019 (please see our respective blog post) a number of high-profile fines were imposed in 2020, with 6 of the top 10 all time fines being issued in 2020 and one in 2021.

1. H&M Hennes & Mauritz Online Shop A.B. & Co. KG was fined € 35 million for monitoring several hundred employees (please see our respective blog post).

2. TIM (Italian telecommunications operator) was fined € 27 million for making unwanted promotion calls.

3. British Airways was fined € 22 million for failing to protect personal and financial data of more than 400,000 customers (please see our blog post)

4. Marriott International was fined € 20 million for a data breach affecting up to 383 million customers (please see our respective blog post)

5. Wind Tre S.p.A. was fined € 17 million for unsolicited marketing communications.

A comparison of the highest fines shows that most of them were imposed due to an insufficient legal basis for the processing of personal data (Art. 5 & 6 GDPR) or due to insufficient technical and organizational measures to ensure an appropriate level of security (Art. 32 GDPR).

While the European authorities have shown their willingness to enforce the GDPR rules, they have also shown leniency due to the impact that the COVID 19 pandemic has had on businesses. At least in part due to the impact of the pandemic, the penalties planned by the UK ICO have been softened. A planned fine of €205 million for British Airways was reduced to €22 million and a planned fine of €110 million for Marriott International was reduced to €20 million. GDPR investigations are also often lengthy and contentious, so the increased fines may in part be due to more investigations having had sufficient time to be completed. For example, the dispute over the above fines for British Airways and Marriott International has already started in 2019.

Not only the fines but also the number of data breach notifications increased in 2020. In 2020 121,165 data breaches were reported, an average of 331 notifications per day, compared to 278 per day in 2019. In terms of reported data breaches per 100,000 inhabitants, there is a stark contrast between Northern and Southern European countries. In 2020, Denmark recorded 155.6 data breaches per 100,000 inhabitants, the Netherlands 150, Ireland 127.8, while Greece, Italy and Croatia reported the lowest number of data breaches per inhabitant.

The trend shows that the GDPR is being taken more and more seriously by companies and authorities, and this trend is likely to continue as authorities become more confident in enforcing the GDPR. Fines are only likely to increase, especially as none of the fines imposed so far even come close to the maximum possible amount of 4% of a company’s global annual turnover. The figures also show that while the laws are in principle the same and are supposed to be applied the same in all EEA countries, nations have different approaches to interpreting and implementing them. In the near future, we can expect to see the first penalties resulting from the GDPR restrictions on data transfers to third countries, especially in the aftermath of the Schrems II ruling on data transfers to the USA.

Dutch DPA administers record €725 000 fine for GDPR violation

6. May 2020

The Dutch Data Protection Authority, Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens (Dutch DPA), has issued a EUR 725 000 fine on April 30th to a company for scanning the fingerprints of its employees in order to record attendance.

As fingerprints fall under sensitive data according to Art. 9 GDPR, by being biometric data and therefore can easily identify a data subject, the Dutch DPA has addressed two exceptions in the present case: explicit consent according to Art. 9 II a GDPR, and the necessity of the processing for security reasons, which are related back to Art.9 II g GDPR.

According to the Dutch DPA, none of the two exceptions apply.

In the first case, the Dutch DPA states that the employer has shown no proof of valid explicit consent of the employees. Rather, the Dutch DPA is of the opinion that in an employment relationship, consent cannot be given freely. While it is tricky to ensure freely given consent in situations where one side is dependant on the other, it is possible to ensure such a freely given consent by the means of offering an alternative form of processing, allowing the employee to choose from two options according to their own judgement. In the case brought to the Dutch DPA, this had not been the case. Rather, employees felt obligated to give their consent, especially since the denial resulted in a personal meeting with the director. An alternative option to scanning their fingerprints was not given by the company.

The second exception of the necessity of the processing for security reasons was also dismantled by the Dutch DPA. It reasoned with the fact that such an exception only applies in cases where the security of the systems or the building depend on biometric data, and cannot be done by a less invasive method. While the activities of the company remain confidential, the Dutch DPA has denied them to be of that level of importance that security can only be done through biometrics. Therefore, the fingerprint scanning in the matter was unnecessary and disproportionate to the invasion of the employees’ privacy.

As this case shows, it is recommendable to be careful with the processing of biometric data. In particular, companies should ensure to have valid consent before progressing with the processing of sensitive data to mitigate the risks of a fine.

Dutch DPA fines Tennis Association

12. March 2020

The Dutch Data Protection Authority has fined the Royal Dutch Tennis Association (“KNLTB”) with EUR 525,000 for selling personal data of more than 350,000 of its members to sponsors who had contacted some of the members by mail and telephone for direct marketing purposes.

In 2018, the KNLTB illegally provided personal data of its members to two sponsors for a fee. One sponsor received personal data from 50,000 members and the other sponsor from more than 300,000 members. It turned out that the KNLTB sold personal data such as name, gender and address to third parties without obtaining consent of the data subjects.

The KNLTB found that it had a legitimate interest in selling the data. However, the data protection authority rejected the existence of a legitimate interest for the sale of the data and therefore decided that there was no legal basis for the transfer of the personal data to the sponsors. The KNLTB has objected to the fine decision. The Dutch Data Protection Authority will assess this.

 

 

Dutch DPA issued a statement regarding cookie consent

12. December 2019

The Dutch Data Protection Authority (Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens) has recently issued a statement regarding compliance with the rules on cookie consent. According to the statement the DPA has reviewed 175 websites and e-commerce platforms to see if they meet the requirements for the use of cookies. They found that almost half of the websites and nearly all e-commerce platforms do not meet the requirements for cookie consent.

The data protection authority has contacted the companies concerned and requested them to adjust their cookie usage.

In its statement, the Data Protection Authority also refers to the “Planet49case” of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and clarifies that boxes that have already been clicked do not comply with the obligation to obtain the user’s consent. In addition, it is not equivalent to obtaining consent to the use of cookies if the user merely scrolls down the website. Cookies, which enable websites to track their users, always require explicit consent.

Lastly, the DPA recalls that cookie walls that prevent users, who have not consented to the use of cookies from accessing the website are not permitted.

Category: EU · GDPR · The Netherlands
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 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.

Google data breach notification sent to IDPC

18. July 2019

Google may face further investigations under the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR), after unauthorized audio recordings have been forwarded to subcontractors. The Irish Data Protection Commission (IDPC) has confirmed through a spokesperson that they have received a data breach notification concerning the issue last week.

The recordings were exposed by the Belgian broadcast VRT, said to affect 1000 clips of conversations in the region of Belgium and the Netherlands. Being logged by Google Assistant, the recordings were then sent to Google’s subcontractors for review. At least 153 of those recordings were not authorized by Google’s wake phrase “Ok/Hey, Google,” and were never meant to be recorded in the first place. They contained personal data reaching from family conversations over bedroom chatter to business calls with confidential information.

Google has addressed this violation of their data security policies in a blog post. It said that the audio recordings were sent to experts, who understand nuances and accents, in order to refine Home’s linguistic abilities, which is a critical part in the process of building speech technology. Google stresses that the storing of recorded data on its services is turned off by default, and only sends audio data to Google once its wake phrase is said. The recordings in question were most likely initiated by the users saying a phrase that sounded similar to “Ok/Hey, Google,” therefore confusing Google Assistant and turning it on.

According to Google’s statement, Security and Privacy teams are working on the issue and will fully review its safeguards to prevent this sort of misconduct from happening again. If, however, following investigations by the IDPC discover a GDPR violation on the matter, it could result in significant financial penalty for the tech giant.

Dutch DPA publishes recommendations for privacy policies

26. April 2019

Recently, the Dutch Data Portection Authority (Autoriteit Personensgegevens) published six recommendations for companies when outlining their privacy policies for the purpose of Art. 24 para 2 of the General Data Protection Regulation (the “GDPR”).

The authorities’ recommendations are a result of their investigation of companies’ privacy policies, which focused on companies that mainly process special categories of personal data, e.g. health data or data relating to individuals’ political beliefs.

The Dutch DPA reviewed privacy policies of several companies such as blood banks or local political parties and it focused on three main points 1) the description of the categories of the personal data 2) the description of the purposes of the processing and 3) the information about data subjects’ rights. They discovered that the descriptions of the data categories and purposes were incomplete or too superficial and thus released six recommendations that companies shall take into consideration when outlining privacy policies.

Those are the six recommendations:

  • Companies should evaluate whether they have to implement privacy policies (taking into account the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing, as well as the risks for the rights and freedoms of natural persons)
  • Companies should consult internal and/or external expertise such as data protection officers when implementing privacy policies
  • The policy should be outlined in a single document to avoid fragmentation of information
  • The policy should be concrete and specific and therefore not only repeating the provisions of the GDPR
  • The DPA recommends to publish the privacy policies so that data subjects are aware of how the company handles personal data
  • The DPA also suggests to draft a privacy policy even if it is not mandatory to demonstrate that the company is willing to protect personal data

Dutch DPA: Cookie walls do not comply with GDPR

11. March 2019

The Dutch data protection authority, Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, clarified on 7th of March 2019 that the use of websites must remain accessible when tracking cookies are not accepted. Websites that allow users to access only if they agree to the use of tracking cookies or other similar means to track and record their behavior do not comply with the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR.

The Dutch DPA’s decision was prompted by numerous complaints from website users who no longer had access to the websites after refusing the usage of tracking cookies.

The Dutch DPA noted that the use of tracking software is generally allowed. Tracking the behaviour of website users, however, must be based on sufficient consent. In order to be compliant with the GDPR, permission must be given freely. In the case of so-called cookie walls the user has no access to the website if he does not agree to the setting of cookies. In this way, pressure is exerted on the user to disclose his personal data. Nevertheless, according to the GDPR a consent has not been given voluntarily if no free or no real choice exists.

With publication of the explanation the Dutch DPA demands organizations to make their practice compliant with the GDPR. The DPA has already written to those organisations about which the users have complained the most. In addition, it announced that it would intensify its monitoring in the near future in order to examine whether the standard is applied correctly in the interest of data protection.

The Dutch DPA (Autoriteit Persoonsgevens) investigates several Data Processing Agreements

23. January 2019

Since the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force on May 25, 2018, the Dutch DPA regularly reviews whether organizations comply with data protection regulations. For example, the DPA previously investigated organizations (inter alia hospitals, banks, insurers) regarding their data protection officers and/or whether they keep a register of processing activities.

The Dutch Data Protection Authortiy, the so called Autoriteit Persoonsgevens, announced last week on its website that it had asked 30 private organizations to provide their Data Processing Agreements in use. The organizations in question mainly operate in the field of energy, media and trade.

Art. 28 GDPR states that a data controller must have a data processing agreement (DPA) with a data processor when the ladder is carrying out the data processing on behalf of the controller. This is for example the case when an organization outsources IT facilities. The controller remains responsible for the protection of the personal data and is only allowed to engage processors which can offer sufficient guarantees to ensure those requirements. Especially, the agreement must specify the type and categories of data that will be processed and the duration as well as the nature and purpose of the processing.

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