Tag: EU

WhatsApp’s privacy policy update halted

22. January 2021

Already at the beginning of December 2020, first indications came up signaling that WhatsApp will change its terms of service and privacy policy. Earlier this year, users received the update notice when launching the app on their device. It stated that the new terms concern additional information on how WhatsApp processes user data and how businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats. The terms should be accepted by February 8th, 2021, to continue using the chat service. Otherwise, the deletion of the account was suggested, because it will not be possible to use WhatsApp without accepting the changes. The notice has caused all sorts of confusion and criticism, because it has mistakenly made many users believe that the agreement allows WhatsApp to share all collected user data with company parent Facebook, which had faced repeated privacy controversies in the past.

Users’ fears in this regard are not entirely unfounded. As a matter of fact, outside the EU, WhatsApp user data has already been flowing to Facebook since 2016 – for advertising purposes, among other things. Though, for the EU and the United Kingdom, other guidelines apply without any data transfer.

The negative coverage and user reactions caused WhatsApp to hastily note that the changes explicitly do not affect EU users. Niamh Sweeney, director of policy at WhatsApp, said via Twitter that it remained the case that WhatsApp did not share European user data with Facebook for the purpose of using this data to improve Facebook’s products or ads.

However, since the topic continues to stir the emotions, WhatsApp felt compelled to provide clarification with a tweet and a FAQ. The statements make it clear once again that the changes are related to optional business features and provide further transparency about how the company collects and uses data. The end-to-end encryption, with which chat content is only visible to the participating users, will not be changed. Moreover, the new update does not expand WhatsApp’s ability to share data with Facebook.

Nevertheless, despite all efforts, WhatsApp has not managed to explain the changes in an understandable way. It has even had to accept huge user churn in recent days. The interest in messenger alternatives has increased enormously. Eventually, the public backlash led to an official announcement that the controversial considered update will be delayed until May 15th, 2021. Due to misinformation and concern, users shall be given more time to review the policy on their own in order to understand WhatsApp’s privacy and security principles.

EU-UK Trade Deal in light of Data Protection

4. January 2021

Almost fit to be called a Christmas miracle, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) came to an agreement on December 24th, 2020. The Trade Agreement, called in full length “EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement“, is set out to define new rules from the date of the UK Exit from the EU, January 1st, 2021.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, claimed it was a deal worth fighting for, “because we now have a fair and balanced agreement with the UK, which will protect our European interests, ensure fair competition, and provide much needed predictability for our fishing communities. Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.

In light of Data Protection however, the new Trade Deal has not given much certainty of what is to come next.

Both sides are aware that an adequacy decision by the EU Commission is very important with regard to data protection and cross-border data flows. Accordingly, the EU has agreed to allow a period of four months, extendable by a further two months, during which data can be transferred between EU Member States and the UK without additional safeguards. This period was granted to give the Commission enough time to make an adequacy decision. Accordingly, data transfers can continue as before until possibly mid-2021. However, this arrangement is only valid if the UK does not change its data protection laws in the meantime.

With regard to direct marketing, the situation has not changed either: for individuals, active consent must be given unless there was a prior contractual relationship and the advertising relates to similar products as the prior contract. Furthermore, the advertising must also be precisely recognisable as such, and the possibility of revoking consent must be given in every advertising mail.

However, much else has yet to be clarified. Questions such as the competence of the UK Data Protection Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), as well as the fate of its ongoing investigations, have not yet been answered. As of now, companies with their original EU Headquarters in the UK will have to designate a new Lead Supervisory Authority (Art. 56 GDPR) for their business in the EU.

The upcoming months will determine if questions with high relevance to businesses’ day to day practice will be able to be answered reassuringly.

European Commission proposes draft “Digital Service Act” and “Digital Market Act”

21. December 2020

On December 15th, the European Commission published drafts on the “Digital Service Act” (“DSA”) and the “Digital Market Act” (“DMA”), which are intended to restrict large online platforms and stimulate competition.

The DSA is intended to rework the 20-year-old e-Commerce Directive and introduce a paradigm shift in accountability. Under the DSA, platforms would have to prove that they acted in a timely manner in removing or blocking access to illegal content, or that they have no actual knowledge of such content. Violators would face fines of up to 6% of annual revenue. Authorities could order providers to take action against specific illegal content, after which they must provide immediate feedback on what action was taken and when. Providing false, incomplete or misleading information as part of the reporting requirement or failing to conduct an on-site inspection could result in fines of up to 1% of annual revenue. The scope of said illegal content is to include for example, criminal hate comments, discriminatory content, depictions of child sexual abuse, non-consensual sharing of private images, unauthorized use of copyrighted works, and terrorist content. Hosting providers will be required to establish efficient notice and action mechanisms that allow individuals to report and take action against posts they deem illegal. Platforms would not only be required to remove illegal content, but also explain to users why the content was blocked and give them the opportunity to complain.

Any advertising on ad-supported platforms would be required to be clearly identifiable as advertising and clearly state who sponsored it. Exceptions are to apply to smaller journalistic portals and bloggers, while even stricter rules would apply to large platforms. For example, platforms with more than 45 million active users in the EU could be forced to grant comprehensive access to stored data, provided that trade secrets are not affected, and to set up archives that make it possible to identify disinformation and illegal advertising.

Social network operators would have to conduct annual risk assessments and review how they deal with systemic threats, such as the spread of illegal content. They would also be required to provide clear, easy-to-understand and detailed reports at least once a year on the content moderation they have carried out during that period.

Newly appointed “Digital Service Coordinators” in each EU-Member-State are supposed to enforce the regulation, for example by ordering platforms to share data with researchers who shall investigate the platforms relevant activities, while a new European committee is to ensure that the DSA is applied uniformly across the EU. On demand of the Digital Service Coordinators platforms would have to provide researchers with key data, so they can investigate the platforms relevant activities.

The DMA includes a list of competition requirements for large platforms, so called “gatekeepers”, that have a monopoly-like status. The regulations aim to strengthen smaller competitors and prevent the large gatekeepers from using their dominance to impose practices perceived as unfair. They would neither be allowed to exclusively pre-install their own applications, nor to force other operating system developers or hardware manufacturers to have programs pre-installed exclusively by the gatekeeper’s company. In addition, preventing users from uninstalling included applications would be prohibited. Other common measures of self-preference would also be prohibited. For example, gatekeepers would no longer be allowed to use data generated by their services for their own commercial activities without also making the information available to other commercial users. If a provider wanted to merge data generated by different portals, he would have to obtain explicit consent from users to do so.

The publication of the DSA and the DMA is the next step in the European Commission’s 2020 European strategy for data, following the proposal of the Data Governance Act in November. Like the Data Governance Act, the DSA and DMA aim to push back the dominance of tech giants, particularly those from the U.S. and China, while promoting competition.

EDPS considers Privacy Shield replacement unlikely for a while

18. December 2020

The data transfer agreements between the EU and the USA, namely Safe Harbor and its successor Privacy Shield, have suffered a hard fate for years. Both have been declared invalid by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in the course of proceedings initiated by Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems against Facebook. In either case, the court came to the conclusion that the agreements did not meet the requirements to guarantee equivalent data protection standards and thus violated Europeans’ fundamental rights due to data transfer to US law enforcement agencies enabled by US surveillance laws.

The judgement marking the end of the EU-US Privacy Shield (“Schrems II”) has a huge impact on EU companies doing business with the USA, which are now expected to rely on Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs). However, the CJEU tightened the requirements for the SCCs. When using them in the future, companies have to determine whether there is an adequate level of data protection in the third country. Therefore, in particular cases, there may need to be taken additional measures to ensure a level of protection that is essentially the same as in the EU.

Despite this, companies were hoping for a new transatlantic data transfer pact. Though, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski expressed doubts on an agreement in the near future:

I don’t expect a new solution instead of Privacy Shield in the space of weeks, and probably not even months, and so we have to be ready that the system without a Privacy Shield like solution will last for a while.

He justified his skepticism with the incoming Biden administration, since it may have other priorities than possible changes in the American national security laws. An agreement upon a new data transfer mechanism would admittedly depend on leveling US national security laws with EU fundamental rights.

With that in mind, the EU does not remain inactive. It is also trying to devise different ways to maintain its data transfers with the rest of the world. In this regard, the EDPS appreciated European Commission’s proposed revisions to SCCs, which take into consideration the provisions laid down in CJEU’s judgement “Schrems II”.

The proposed Standard Contractual Clauses look very promising and they are already introducing many thoughts given by the data protection authorities.

Update: The Council of the European Union publishes recommendations on encryption

8. December 2020

In November, the Austrian broadcasting network “Österreichischer Rundfunk” sparked a controversial discussion by publishing leaked drafts of the Council of the European Union (“EU Council”) on encryption (please see our blog post). After these drafts had been criticized by several politicians, journalists and NGOs, the EU Council published “Recommendations for a way forward on the topic of encryption” on December 1st, in which it considers it important to carefully balance between protecting fundamental rights with ensuring law enforcement investigative powers.

The EU Council sees a dilemma between the need for strong encryption in order to protect privacy on one hand, and the misuse of encryption by criminal subjects such as terrorists and organized crime on the other hand. They further note:

“We acknowledge this dilemma and are determined to find ways that will not compromise
either one, upholding the principle of security through encryption and security despite
encryption.”

The paper lists several intentions that are supposed to help find solutions to this dilemma.

First, it directly addresses EU institutions, agencies, and member states, asking them to coordinate their efforts in developing technical, legal and operational solutions. Part of this cooperation is supposed to be the joint implementation of standardized high-quality training programs for law enforcement officers that are tailored to the skilled criminal environment. International cooperation, particularly with the initiators of the “International Statement: End-to-End Encryption and Public Safety“, is proclaimed as a further intention.

Next the technology industry, civil society and academic world are acknowledged as important partners with whom EU institutions shall establish a permanent dialogue. The recommendations address internet service providers and social media platforms directly, noting that only with their involvement can the full potential of technical expertise be realized. Europol’s EU Innovation Hub and national research and development teams are named key EU institutions for maintaining this dialogue.

The EU Council concludes that the continuous development of encryption requires regular evaluation and review of technical, operational, and legal solutions.

These recommendations can be seen as a direct response to the discussion that arose in November. The EU Council is attempting to appease critics by emphasizing the value of encryption, while still reiterating the importance of law enforcement efficiency. It remains to be seen how willing the private sector will cooperate with the EU institutions and what measures exactly the EU Council intends to implement. This list of intentions lacks clear guidelines, recommendations or even a clearly formulated goal. Instead, the parties are asked to work together to find solutions that offer the highest level of security while maximizing law enforcement efficiency. In summary, these “recommendations” are more of a statement of intent than implementable recommendations on encryption.

The Controversy around the Council of the European Union’s Declaration on End-to-End Encryption

27. November 2020

In the course of November 2020, the Council of the European Union issued several draft versions of a joint declaration with the working title “Security through encryption and security despite encryption”. The drafts were initially intended only for internal purposes, but leaked and first published by the Austrian brodcasting network “Österreichischer Rundfunk” (“ORF”) in an article by journalist Erich Möchel. Since then, the matter has sparked widespread public interest and media attention.

The controversy around the declaration arose when the ORF commentator Möchel presented further information from unknown sources that “compentent authorities” shall be given “exceptional access” to the end-to-end encryption of communications. This would mean that communications service providers like WhatsApp, Signal etc. would be obliged to allow a backdoor and create a general key to encrypted communications which they would deposit with public authorities. From comparing the version of the declaration from 6 November 2020 with the previous version from 21 October 2020, he highlighted that in the previous version it states that additional practical powers shall be given to “law enforcement and judicial authorities”, whereas in the more recent version, the powers shall be given to “competent authorities in the area of security and criminal justice”. He adds that the new broader wording would include European intelligence agencies as well and allow them to undermine end-to-end encryption. Furthermore, he also indicated that plans to restrict end-to-end encyption in Western countries are not new, but originally proposed by the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

As a result of the ORF article, the supposed plans to restrict or ban end-to-end encryption have been widely criticised by Politicians, Journalists, and NGOs stating that any backdoors to end-to-end encryption would render any secure encryption impossible.

However, while it can be verified that the “Five Eyes” propose the creation of general keys to access end-to-end encrypted communications, similar plans for the EU cannot be clearly deduced from the EU Council’s declaration at hand. The declaration itself recognises end-to-end encryption as highly beneficial to protect governments, critical infrastructures, civil society, citizens and industry by ensuring privacy, confidentiality and data integrity of communications and personal data. Moreover, it mentions that EU data protection authorities have identified it as an important tool in light of the Schrems II decision of the CJEU. At the same time, the Council’s declaration illustrates that end-to-end encryption poses large challenges for criminal investigations when gathering evidencein cases of cyber crime, making it at times “practically impossible”. Lastly, the Council calls for an open, unbiased and active discussion with the tech industry, research and academia in order to achieve a better balance between “security through encryption and security despite encryption”.

Möchel’s sources for EU plans to ban end-to-end encryption through general keys remain unknown and unverifiable. Despite general concerns for overarching surveillance powers of governments, the public can only approach the controversy around the EU Council’s declaration with due objectivity and remain observant on whether or how the EU will regulate end-to-end encryption and find the right balance between the privacy rights of European citizens and the public security and criminal justice interests of governments.

EU Commission proposes “Data Governance Act”

The European Commission (“EC”) aims for an ecosystem of cheap, versatile, and secure EU-internal data transfers, so data transfers into non-EU-regions are less needed. For this goal, the EC proposed the “Data Governance Act” on November 25th, as a part of its “2020 European strategy for data“.  These strategies are intended in order to open up new ways of sharing data that is collected by companies and the public sector, or freely shared by individuals, while increasing public trust in data sharing by implementing several measures, such as establishing “data sharing intermediaries”. Combined with the Gaia-X project and several measures to follow, the Data Governance Act sets the basis to create a domestic data market that offers more efficiency of data transfers to the businesses, while also ensuring that GDPR standards are preserved. Key industries in the focus of this agenda are the agricultural, environmental, energy, finance, healthcare and mobility sectors as well as public administration.

During her speech presenting the Data Governance Act, Margarethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said that there are huge amounts of data produced every day, but not put to any productive use. As examples she names road traffic data from GPS, healthcare data that enables better and faster diagnosis, or data tracking heat usage from house sensors. The amount of data produced is only going to increase exponentially in the years to come. Vestager sees a lot of potential in this unused data and states the industry has an interest in using this data, however it lacks the tools to harness it.

EU based neutral data sharing intermediaries, who serve as safe data sharing organizers, are a key factor in this project. Their role is supposed to boost the willingness of sharing personal data whilst preserving the initial owner’s control. Therefore, intermediaries are not allowed to use the data for themselves, but function as neutral third-parties, transferring data between the data holder and the data user. Furthermore, intermediaries are to organize and combine different data in a neutral way, so no company secrets can be abused and the data is only used for the agreed purpose. Before they start operating, intermediates are required to notify the competent authority of their intention to provide data-sharing services.

New laws are going to ensure that sensitive and confidential data – such as intellectual property rights – can be shared and reused, while a legitimate level of protection is maintained. The same applies to data shared by individuals voluntarily. Individuals will be able to share personal data voluntarily in so-called “personal data spaces”. Once businesses will get access to these, they benefit from large amounts of data for low costs, no effort and on short notice. Vestager introduces the example of an individual suffering from a rare illness, who could provide data of his medical tests into such a personal data space, so businesses can use this data to work on treatments. Further examples are improvements in the management of climate change and the development of more precise farming tools.

To ensure the trust of potential participants, each EU-member-state is supposed to implement new competent authorities that are tasked with implementing and enforcing the Data Governance Act. A new EU-institution, the “European Data Innovation Board”, will be implemented and tasked with informing the EC about new data innovations and working out guidelines on how to implement these innovations into practice.

A more fluent exchange between different kinds of technical expertise is the hoped-for outcome of these changes, as a means to diminish the influence of big tech companies from the U.S. and China.

The Data Governance Act now needs to go through the regular legislative process. A timetable for when it is supposed to come into effect has not yet been set.

EDPB issues guidance on data transfers following Schrems II

17. November 2020

Following the recent judgment C-311/18 (Schrems II) by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) published “Recommendations on measures that supplement transfer tools to ensure compliance with the EU level of protection of personal data” on November 11th. These measures are to be considered when assessing the transfer of personal data to countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), or so-called third countries. These recommendations are subject to public consultation until the end of November. Complementing these recommendations, the EDPB published “Recommendations on the European Essential Guarantees for surveillance measures”. Added together both recommendations are guidelines to assess sufficient measures to meet standards of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), even if data is transferred to a country lacking protection comparable to that of the GDPR.

The EDPB highlights a six steps plan to follow when checking whether a data transfer to a third country meets the standards set forth by the GDPR.

The first step is to map all transfers of personal data undertaken, especially transfers into a third country. The transferred data must be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purpose. A major factor to consider is the storage of data in clouds. Furthermore, onwards transfer made by processors should be included. In a second step, the transfer tool used needs to be verified and matched to those listed in Chapter V of the GDPR. The third step is assessing if anything in the law or practice of the third country can impinge on the effectiveness of the safeguards of the transfer tool. The before mentioned Recommendations on European Essential Guarantees are supposed to help to evaluate a third countries laws, regarding the access of data by public authorities for the purpose of surveillance.

If the conclusion that follows the previous steps is that the third countries legislation impinges on the effectiveness of the Article 46 GDPR tool, the fourth step is identifying supplementary measures that are necessary to bring the level of protection of the data transfer up to EU Standards, or at least an equivalent, and adopting these. Recommendations for such measures are listed in Annex 2 of the EDPB Schrems II Recommendations. They may be of contractual, technical, or organizational nature. In Annex 2 the EDPB mentions seven technical cases they found and evaluates them. Five were deemed to be scenarios for which effective measures could be found. These are:

1. Data storage in a third country, that does not require access to the data in the clear.
2. Transfer of pseudonymized data.
3. Encrypted data merely transiting third countries.
4. Transfer of data to by law specially protected recipients.
5. Split or multi-party processing.

Maybe even more relevant are the two scenarios the EDPB found no effective measures for and therefore deemed to not be compliant with GDPR standards.:

6. Transfer of data in the clear (to cloud services or other processors)
7. Remote access (from third countries) to data in the clear, for business purposes, such as, for example, Human Resources.

These two scenarios are frequently used in practice. Still, the EDPB recommends not to execute these transfers in the upcoming future.
Examples of contractual measures are the obligation to implement necessary technical measures, measures regarding transparency of (requested) access by government authorities and measures to be taken against such requests. Accompanying this the European Commission published a draft regarding standard contractual clauses for transferring personal data to non-EU countries, as well as organizational measures such as internal policies and responsibilities regarding government interventions.

The last two steps are undertaking the formal procedural steps to adapt supplementary measures required and re-evaluating the former steps in appropriate intervals.

Even though these recommendations are not (yet) binding, companies should take a further look at the recommendations and check if their data transfers comply with the new situation.

Irish DPC updates Guidance on Data Processing’s Legal Bases

17. December 2019

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has updated their guidance on the legal bases for personal data processing. It focuses on data processing under the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as data processing requirements under the European Law Enforcement Directive.

The main points of the updates to the guidance are to make companies more sensitive of their reasons for processing personal data and choosing the right legal basis, as well as ensure that data subjects may be able to figure out if their data is being processed lawfully.

The guidance focuses on the different legal bases in Art.6 GDPR, namely consent, contracts, legal obligation, vital interests, public task or legitimate interests. The Irish DPC states that controllers do not only have to choose the right legal basis, but they also have to understand the obligations that come with the chosen one, which is why they wanted to go into further detail.

Overall, the guidance is made to aid both controllers and data subjects. It consists of a way to support a better understanding of the terminology, as well as the legal requirements the GDPR sets out for processing personal data.

CNIL publishes report on facial recognition

21. November 2019

The French Data Protection Authority, Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), has released guidelines concerning the experimental use of facial recognition software by the french public authorities.

Especially concerned with the risks of using such a technology in the public sector, the CNIL made it clear that the use of facial recognition has vast political as well as societal influences and risks. In its report, the CNIL explicitly stated the software can yield very biased results, since the algorithms are not 100% reliable, and the rate of false-positives can vary depending on the gender and on the ethnicity of the individuals that are recorded.

To minimize the chances of an unlawful use of the technology, the CNIL came forth with three main requirements in its report. It recommended to the public authorities, that are using facial recognition in an experimental phase, to comply with them in order to keep the chances of risks to a minimum.

The three requirements put forth in the report are as follows:

  • Facial recognition should only be put to experimental use if there is an established need to implement an authentication mechanism with a high level of reliability. Further, there should be no less intrusive methods applicable to the situation.
  • The controller must under all circumstances respect the rights of the individuals beig recorded. That extends to the necessity of consent for each device used, data subjects’ control over their own data, information obligation, and transparency of the use and purpose, etc.
  • The experimental use must follow a precise timeline and be at the base of a rigorous methodology in order to minimize the risks.

The CNIL also states that it is important to evaluate each use of the technology on a case by case basis, as the risks depending on the way the software is used can vary between controllers.

While the CNIL wishes to give a red lining to the use of facial recognition in the future, it has also made clear that it will fulfill its role by showing support concerning issues that may arise by giving counsel in regards to legal and methodological use of facial recognition in an experimental stage.

Category: EU · French DPA · GDPR · General
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