Tag: Fine

CNIL fines Monsanto 400,000 € for GDPR violations

29. July 2021

France’s data protection authority, the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), imposed a fine of 400,000 € on the U.S.-based biotechnology corporation Monsanto Company for contravention of Article 14 GDPR regarding the information of data subjects about the collection of their personal data and Article 28 GDPR concerning contractual guarantees which lay down relations with a data processor.

In May 2019, several media outlets revealed that Monsanto was in possession of a file containing personal data of more than 200 political figures or members of civil society (e.g. journalists, environmental activists, scientists or farmers). The investigations carried out by the CNIL disclosed that the information had been collected for lobbying purposes. The individuals named on this “watch list” were Monsanto’s opponents and critics from several European countries, meant to be “educated” or “monitored”. This strategy should have influenced the debate and public opinion on the renewal of the authorization of glyphosate in Europe, a controversial active substance contained in Monsanto’s best-known product for weed control. The reason for the still current scientific controversy is the causation of diseases by glyphosate, most notably cancer.

The file included, for each of the individuals, personal data such as organization, position, business address, business phone number, cell phone number, business email address, and in some cases Twitter accounts. In addition, each person was given a score from 1 to 5 to evaluate their influence, credibility, and support for Monsanto on various issues such as pesticides or genetically modified organisms.

It should be noted that the creation of contact files by stakeholders for lobbying purposes is not illegal per se. While it is not necessary to obtain the consent of the data subjects, the data have to be lawfully collected and the individuals have to be informed of the processing.

In imposing the penalty, the CNIL considered that Monsanto had failed to comply with the provisions of the GDPR by not informing the data subjects about the storage of their data, as required by Article 14 GDPR. In addition, none of the exceptions provided in Article 14 para. 5 GDPR were applicable in this case. The data protection authority stressed that the aforementioned obligation is a key measure under the GDPR insofar as it allows the data subjects to exercise their other rights, in particular the right to object.

Furthermore, Monsanto violated its obligations under Article 28 GDPR. As a controller, the company was required to establish a legal framework for the processing carried out on its behalf by its processor, in particular to provide data security guarantees. However, in the CNIL’s opinion, none of the contracts concluded between the two companies complied with the requirements of Article 28 para. 4 GDPR.

Amex fined for sending four million unlawful emails

15. July 2021

American Express Service Europe Limited (Amex) has received a £ 90,000 fine from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for sending over four million unwanted marketing emails to customers.

The reason for the investigation by UK’s supervisory authority were complaints from Amex customers, which claimed to have been receiving marketing emails even though they had not given their consent to do so. The emails, sent as a part of a campaign, contained information regarding benefits of online shopping, optimal use of the card and encouragement to download the Amex app. According to Amex, the emails were rather about “servicing”, not “marketing”. The company insisted that customers would be disadvantaged if they were not aware of the campaigns and that the emails were a requirement of the credit agreements.

The ICO did not share this view. In its opinion, the emails were aimed at inducing customers to make purchases with their cards in return for a £ 50 benefit, and thus “deliberately” for “financial gain”. This constitutes a marketing activity which, without a valid consent, violates Regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. The consents and therefore the legal basis were not given in this case.

The ICO Head of Investigations pointed out how important it is for companies to know the differences between a service email and a marketing email to ensure that email communications with customers are compliant with the law. While service messages contain routine information such as changes in terms and conditions or notices of service interruptions, direct marketing is any communication of promotional or marketing material directed to specific individuals.

An Amex spokesperson assured that the company takes customers’ marketing preferences very seriously and has already taken steps to address the concerns raised.

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.

University fined for omitted notification of a data breach

4. February 2021

The President of the Personal Data Protection Office in Poland (UODO) imposed a fine on the Medical University of Silesia in the amount of PLN 25.000 (approx. EUR 5.600). The university had suffered a data breach of which it should have notified the supervisory authority and the data subjects according to Articles 33, 34 GDPR, but failed to do so.

First indications of the data breach reached UODO in early June 2020. It was related to exams held at the end of May 2020 by videoconference on an e-learning platform. These were also being recorded. Before the exam, students were identified by their IDs or student cards, so a large amount of their personal data was documented on the recordings. After the exam was completed, the recordings were made available on the platform. However, not only the examinees had access to the platform, but also a wider group of people, about which the students had not been informed. In addition, using a direct link, any extern person could access the recordings and therefore the data of the examinees. Many students, fearing that the video would be deleted to cover up the incident, secured the file or took photographs of the computer screens to protect evidence. Eventually, the chancellor (being the decision-making unit) expressed the position that the incident of 200 people viewing the IDs of some 100-150 other people cannot be considered a personal data breach.

The controller, who was requested to clarify the situation by UODO, did not dispute the data breach. In fact, the virtual room of the platform is only available to the exam group and only those people have access to the recordings. The violation occurred because one of the employees did not close access to the virtual room after the exam. Though, the controller stated that no notification was required. In his opinion the risk to the rights or freedoms of the data subjects was low. Moreover, after the incident, the system was modified to prevent students from downloading the exam files. The controller also indicated that he identified the individuals who had done so and informed them about their criminal liability for disseminating the data.

Despite several letters from UODO, the university still omitted to report the data breach and notify the data subjects. Therefore, administrative proceedings were initiated. UODO found that the controller failed to comply with his obligations to notify both the supervisory authority and affected data subjects as well as improperly assessed the risk involved.

When imposing the fine, the President of UODO took into account the duration of the infringement (several months), the intentional action of the controller and his unsatisfactory cooperation with the supervisory authority. The fine will serve not only a repressive but also a preventive function, as it shows that the obligations arisen in connection with data breaches cannot be ignored. All the more so because an inappropriate approach to the obligations imposed by the GDPR may lead to negative consequences for those affected by the breaches.

New Zealand’s Privacy Act 2020 comes into force

4. December 2020

New Zealand’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner announced the Privacy Act 2020 has taken effect. Certain aspects of the Privacy Act came into force on July 1st, 2020, with most operative provisions commencing from December 1st, 2020. The new law affords better privacy protections and greater obligations for organisations and businesses when handling personal information. It also gives the Privacy Commissioner greater powers to ensure the agencies comply with the Privacy Act.

Notably, the updated legislation features new breach reporting obligations, criminal penalties and provisions on international data transfers.

Part 6. of the Privacy Act 2020 covers notifiable privacy breaches and compliance notices. It introduces a new mandatory reporting requirement. When an agency becomes aware of a privacy breach that it is reasonable to believe has caused serious harm to an affected individual or individuals or is likely to do so (unless a specific limited exception applies), the agency must notify the Privacy Commissioner and affected individuals as soon as practicable. In addition, the Privacy Commissioner may issue a compliance notice to an agency to require it to do something or stop doing something to comply with the Privacy Act. For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that there is no distinction between a data controller and a data processor. The term “agencies” refers to all data processing bodies.

Furthermore, new criminal offences have been incorporated into Part 9. of the Privacy Act (Section 212). It is now an offence to mislead an agency for the purpose of obtaining access to someone else’s personal information – for example, by impersonating an individual or falsely pretending to be an individual or to be acting under the authority of an individual. The Privacy Act also creates a new offence of destroying any document containing personal information, knowing that a request has been made in respect of that information. The penalty for these offences is a fine of up to $ 10,000.

Moreover, in accordance with Part 5. of the Privacy Act (Section 92), the Privacy Commissioner may direct an agency to confirm whether it holds any specified personal information about an individual and to provide the individual access to that information in any manner that the Privacy Commissioner considers appropriate.

What’s more, a new Information Privacy Principle (IPP) has been added to Part 3. of the Privacy Act (Section 22), which governs the disclosure of personal information outside New Zealand. Under IPP 12, an agency may disclose personal information to a foreign person or entity only if the receiving agency is subject to privacy laws that, overall, provide comparable safeguards to those in the Privacy Act.

Apart from that, pursuant to Part 1. of the Privacy Act (Section 4), the privacy obligations also apply to overseas agencies within the meaning of Section 9 that are “carrying on business” in New Zealand, even if they do not have a physical presence there. This will affect businesses located offshore.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards welcomes the Privacy Act, noting that the new law reflects the changes in New Zealand’s wider economy and society as well as a modernised approach to privacy:

The new Act brings with it a wider range of enforcement tools to encourage best practice, which means we are now able to take a different approach to the way we work as a regulator.

Since the Privacy Act 2020 replaces the Privacy Act 1993, which will still be relevant to privacy complaints about actions that happened before December 1st, a guidance has been issued on which act applies and when. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has also published a compare chart that shall help navigate between the acts.

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.

Appeal against record fine for GDPR violation in Poland dismissed

22. October 2020

On 10th September 2019 the Polish Data Protection Commissioner imposed a record fine in the amount of more than PLN 2,8 million or the equivalent of € 660.000 on the company Morele.net for violating the implementation of appropriate technical and organisational measures as well as the lack of verifiability of the prior consents to data processing. The Krakow-based company runs various online shops and stores customer data on a central database. According to the Personal Data Protection Office (UODO), there has been 2,2 million customers affected.

Starting point were especially two incidents at the end of 2018, when unauthorised persons got access to the customer database of the company and the contained personal data. The company notified the data breach to the UODO, which accused it particularly of violation of the confidentiality principle (Articles 5 (1) lit. f, 24 (1), 25 (1), 32 (1) lit. b, d, (2) GDPR) by failing to use sufficient technical and organisational measures to safeguard the data of its customers, such as a two-factor authentication. As claimed by the UODO, the selection of the authentication mechanism should always be preceded by an adequate risk analysis with a corresponding determination of protection requirements. The company did not adequately comply with this. However, it should have been sufficiently aware of the phishing risks as the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT Polska) had already pointed it out.

In addition, the UODO accused the company of violation of the lawfulness, fairness, transparency and accountability principles (Articles 5 (1) lit. a, (2), 6 (1), 7 (1) GDPR) by not being able to prove that (where necessary) the personal data from installment applications had been processed on the basis of consents of data subjects. Furthermore, after a risk analysis, the company deleted the corresponding data from the database in December 2018, but according to the UODO, the deletion was not sufficiently documented.

When assessing the fine, there were many aspects which played a decisive role. Most of all, the extent of the violation (2,2 million customers) and the fact that the company processes personal data professionally in the course of its business activities and therefore has to apply a higher level of security. However, mitigating circumstances were also taken into account, such as the good cooperation with the supervisory authority, no previous ascertainable violations of the GDPR and no identifiable financial advantages for the company.

On 3rd September 2020, the Provincial Administrative Court (WSA) in Warsaw issued a judgment on Morele.net’s appeal against the decision. The WSA dismissed the appeal and considered that the decision on the fine imposed on the company was justified. Furthermore, the WSA stated that the UODO had correctly assessed the facts in the case concerned and considered that the fine imposed was high but within the limits of the law and justified by circumstances. It is expected that the company will lodge a complaint with the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland.

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.

German data protection authorities develop fining concept under GDPR

24. October 2019

In a press release, the German Conference of Data Protection Authorities (Datenschutzkonferenz, “DSK”) announced that it is currently developing a concept for the setting of fines in the event of breaches of the GDPR by companies. The goal is to guarantee a systematic, transparent and comprehensible fine calculation.

The DSK clarifies that this concept has not yet been adopted, but is still in draft stage and will be further worked on. At present it is practiced accompanying with current fine proceedings in order to test it for its practical suitability and aiming accuracy. However, the concrete decisions are nevertheless based on Art. 83 GDPR.

Art. 70 Para. 1 lit. k of the GDPR demands a harmonization of the fine setting within Europe. Therefore guidelines shall be elaborated. For this reason, the DSK draft will be brought into line with the concepts of other EU member states.

Also, at European level a European concept is currently being negotiated. This concept should then be laid down in a guideline, at least in principle. The DSK has also contributed its considerations on the assessment.

The fine concept will be discussed further on 6th and 7th November. After prior examination, a decision will be taken on whether the concept on the setting of fines shall be published.

Category: Data Breach · EU · GDPR
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Swedish DPA imposed ist first GDPR fine

23. August 2019

The Swedish Data Protection Authority “datainspektionen” imposed its first fine since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has entered into force.

Affected is a high school in Skelleftea in the north of Sweden. In the school, 22 pupils were part of a pilot programme to monitor attendance times using facial recognition.

In January 2019, the IT company Tieto announced that it was testing the presence of students at the school with tags, spartphone apps and facial recognition software for automatic registration of students. In Sweden, it is mandatory for teachers to report the presence of all students in each lesson to the supervisors. According to Tieto, teachers at the school in Skelleftea spend around 18,000 hours a year on this registration. Therefore, a class was selected for the pilot project to test the registration for eight weeks using facial recognition. Parents and students were asked to give their consent.

However, the Swedish data protection authority has now said that the way in which consent was obtained violates the GDPR because of the clear imbalance between controller and data subject. Additionally the school failed to conduct an impact assessment including seeking prior consultation with datainspektionen.

Therefore, the DPA imposed a fine of SEK 200.000 (approximately EUR 20.000). In Sweden, public authorities can be fined up to SEK 20.000.000 (approximately EUR 1.000.000).

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