Tag: UK

UK Ministry of Defence Data Breaches put more than 300 Afghans in Danger

23. September 2021

On Monday, 20 September 2021 the UK Ministry of Defence launched an investigation into a recent data breach. The breach has affected more than 250 Afghan interpreters who have cooperated with Western forces in Afghanistan and who have applied for relocation to the UK. The Ministry sent an e-mail to these Afghan individuals who are still in Afghanistan and are reportedly eligible for relocation. The e-mail included all e-mail addresses, names, and some associated profile pictures in copy (“cc”) instead of blind copy (“bcc”), thus exposing the personal information to all recipients. It was reported that some Afghans have sent reply e-mails to all recipients in the mailing list, even sharing details about their current personal situation.

The following Tuesday, Britain’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace apologised for the data breach publicly in Parliament. He explained that he is aware of the compromise of safety of the Afghan interpreters and has suspended an official as a result of the breach. Upon discovery, the Ministry sent out another e-mail advising the affected individuals to delete the previous e-mail and to change their e-mail addresses. Additionally, the Ministry of Defence will offer extra support to those affected by the incident. The Minister also stated that correspondence processes have already been changed.

In the meantime, a second data breach by the Ministry of Defence was uncovered on Wednesday. This time, an e-mail was sent to 55 people requesting them to update their details after the UK officials were unable to contact them. At least one of the recipients is a member of the Afghan National Army. Again, the e-mail was sent with all recipients in “cc” and not in “bcc”.

Military experts and politicians have criticised the Ministry for the data breaches which unnecessarily endanger the safety of Afghans, many of whom are hiding from the Taliban. The investigation into data handling by the “Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy” team within the Ministry of Defence is still ongoing, a spokesperson of the Ministry has said.

UK intents to deliver own Adequacy Decisions for Data Transfers to Third Countries

30. August 2021

On August 26, 2021, the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published a document in which it indicated the intent to begin making adequacy decisions for UK data transfers to third countries.

As the UK has left the EU, it has the power under Chapter V of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) to independently assess the standard of data protection in other jurisdictions, and recognize certain jurisdictions as adequate for the purpose of foreign UK data transfers. This was announced by the DCMS in a Mission Statement including reference to international data transfers, “International data transfers: building trust, delivering growth and firing up innovation“.

“In doing so we want to shape global thinking and promote the benefits of secure international exchange of data. This will be integral to global recovery and future growth and prosperity,” writes the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden and Minister for Media and Data John Whittingdale.

The UK has developed and implemented policies and processes for reaching adequacy agreements with its partners. So far it has identified 10 countries as “priority destinations” for these deals. The countries include Australia, Brazil, Columbia, The Dubai International Financial Centre, India, Indonesia, Kenya, The Republic of Korea, Singapore and the USA.

The adequacy of a third country will be determined on the basis of whether the level of protection under the UK GDPR is undermined when UK data is transferred to the respective third country, which requires an assessment of the importing jurisdiction’s data protection laws as well as their implementation, enforcement and supervision. Particularly important for the consideration will be the third country’s respect for rule of law and the fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The Mission Statement specifies four phases in assessing the adequacy of a jurisdiction. In the first phase, the UK Adequacy Assessment team will evaluate if an adequacy assessment will take place. The second phase involves an analysis of the third country’s level of data protection laws, the result of which will influence the third phase, in which the UK Adequacy Assessment team will make a recommendation to the UK Secretary of State. In the fourth and last phase, the relevant regulations will be presented to Parliament to give legal effect to the Secretary of State’s determination.

Adequacy decisions are planned to be reviewed at least once every four years, and may be subject to judicial review.

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.

EPRS publishes report on post-Brexit EU-UK Data Transfer Mechanisms

20. April 2021

On April 9th, 2021, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published a report on data transfers in the private sector between the EU and the U.K. following Brexit.

The report reviews and assesses trade dealings, adequacy challenges and transfer instruments under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The report is intended to help take regulatory and business decisions, and in the Press Release the European Parliament stated that “a clear understanding of the state of play and future prospects for EU-UK transfers of personal data is indispensable”.

The report provides in-depth analysis of an adequacy decision for the UK as a viable long-term solution for data flows between the U.K. and the EU, also considering possible mechanisms for data transfer in the potential absence of an adequacy decision, such as Standard Contractual Clauses, Binding Corporate Rules, codes of conduct, and certification mechanism.

In this analysis the EPRS also sheds light on adequacy concerns such as U.K. surveillance laws and practices, shortcomings of the implementation of the GDPR, weak enforcement of data protection laws, and wavering commitment to EU data protection standards.

As part of its conclusion, the EPRS stated that the European Data Protection Board’s (‘EDPB’) opinion on the draft decision, which has just been published (please see our blogpost here), will likely scrutinise the Commission’s approach and provide recommendations on next steps.

EDPB adopts opinion on draft UK adequacy decisions

16. April 2021

In accordance with its obligation under Article 70 (1) (s) of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), on April 13th, 2021, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) adopted its opinions on the EU Commissions (“EC”) draft UK adequacy decision (please see our blog post). “Opinion 14/2021” is based on the GDPR and assesses both general data protection aspects and the public authority access to personal data transferred from the EEA for law enforcement and national security purposes contained in the draft adequacy decision, a topic the EC also discussed in detail. At the same time, the EDPB also issued “Opinion 15/2021” on the transfer of personal data under the Law Enforcement Directive (LED).

The EDPB notes that there is a strong alignment between the EU and the UK data protection regimes, especially in the principles relating to the processing of personal data. It expressly praises the fact that the adequacy decision is to apply for a limited period, as the EDPB also sees the danger that the UK could change its data protection laws. Andrea Jelinek, EDPB Chair, is quoted:

“The UK data protection framework is largely based on the EU data protection framework. The UK Data Protection Act 2018 further specifies the application of the GDPR in UK law, in addition to transposing the LED, as well as granting powers and imposing duties on the national data protection supervisory authority, the ICO. Therefore, the EDPB recognises that the UK has mirrored, for the most part, the GDPR and LED in its data protection framework and when analysing its law and practice, the EDPB identified many aspects to be essentially equivalent. However, whilst laws can evolve, this alignment should be maintained. So we welcome the Commission’s decision to limit the granted adequacy in time and the intention to closely monitor developments in the UK.”

But the EDPB also highlights areas of concern that need to be further monitored by the EC:

1. The immigration exemption, which restricts the rights of those data subjects affected.

2. How the transfer of personal data from the EEA to the UK could undermine EU data protection rules, for example on basis of future UK adequacy decisions.

3. Access to personal data by public authorities is given a lot of space in the opinion. For example, the Opinion analyses in detail the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and related case law. The EDPB welcomes the numerous oversight and redress mechanisms in the UK but identifies a number of issues that need “further clarification and/or oversight”, namely bulk searches, independent assessment and oversight of the use of automated processing tools, and the safeguards provided under UK law when it comes to disclosure abroad, particularly with regard to the application of national security exemptions.

In summary, this EDPB opinion does not put any obstacles in the way of an adequacy decision and recognises that there are many areas where the UK and EU regimes converge. Nevertheless, it highlights very clearly that there are deficiencies, particularly in the UK’s system for monitoring national security, which need to be reviewed and kept under observation.

As for the next steps, the draft UK adequacy decisions will now be assessed by representatives of the EU Member States under the “comitology procedure“. The Commission can then adopt the draft UK adequacy decisions. A bridging period during which free data transfer to the UK is permitted even without an adequacy decision ends in June 2021 (please see our blog post).

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.

Contact Tracing Apps: U.K. Update and EDPB Interoperability Statement

23. June 2020

In another update about contact tracing apps, we are going to talk about the new path of contact tracing in the United Kingdom (UK), as well as the European Data Protection Board’s (EDPB) statement in regards to the cross-border interoperability of the contact tracing apps being deployed in the European Union.

UK Contact Tracing App Update

Since starting the field tests on the NHS COVID-19 App on the Isle of Wight, the UK government has decided to change their approach towards the contact tracing model. It has been decided to abandon the centralized app model in favour of the decentralized Google/Apple alternative.

The change was brought on by technical issues and privacy challenges which surfaced during the trial period on the Isle of Wight, and in the end were direct consequences of the centralized model and important enough to motivate the change of approach.

The technical problems included issues with the background Bluetooth access, as well as operation problems in the light of cross-border interoperability. Further, the data protection risks of mission creep and a lack of transparency only urged on the of the app.

The new model is widely used throughout the European Union, and provides more data protection as well as better technical support. The only deficit in comparison with the centralized model is the lesser access to data by epidemiologists, which seems to be a trade off that the UK government is willing to take for the increase in data protection and technical compatibility.

EDPB statement on cross-border interoperability

On June 17th, 2020, the EDPB has released a statement with regards to the cross-border interoperability of contact tracing apps. The statement builds on the EDPB Guideline from 04/2020 with regards to data protection aspects of contact tracing apps, emphasising the importance of the issues presented.

The statement stems from an agreement between EU-Member states and the European Commission formed in May 2020 with regards to the basic guidelines for cross-border interoperability of contact tracing apps, as well as the newly settled technical specs for the achievement of such an interoperability.

The EDPB states key aspects that have to be kept in mind during the entirety of the project, namely transparency, legal basis, controllership, data subject’s rights, as well as data retention and minimisation rules.

Further, the statement emphasises that the sharing of data about individuals which have been diagnosed or tested positively should only be triggered by a voluntary action of the users themselves. In the end, the goal of interoperability should not be used as an argument to extend the collection of personal data further than necessary.

Overall, this type of sharing of personal data can pose an increased data protection risk to the personal data of the users, which is why it needs to be made sure that the principles set down by the GDPR are being upheld, and made sure that there is no less intrusive method to be used in the matter.

UK: Betting companies had access to millions of data of children

28. January 2020

In the UK, betting companies have gained access to data from 28 million children under 14 and adolescents. The data was stored in a government database and could be used for learning purposes. Access to the platform is granted by the government. A company that was given access is said to have illegally given it to another company, which in turn allowed access for the betting companies. The betting providers used the access, among other things, to check age information online. The company accused of passing on the access denies the allegations, but has not yet made any more specific statements.

The British Department for Education speaks of an unacceptable situation. All access points have been closed and the cooperation has been terminated.

Category: Data Breach · General · UK
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USA and UK sign Cross Border Data Access Agreement for Criminal Electronic Data

10. October 2019

The United States and the United Kingdom have entered into the first of its kind CLOUD Act Data Access Agreement, which will allow both countries’ law enforcement authorities to demand authorized access to electronic data relating to serious crime. In both cases, the respective authorities are permitted to ask the tech companies based in the other country, for electronic data directly and without legal barriers.

At the base of this bilateral Agreement stands the U.S.A.’s Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), which came into effect in March 2018. It aims to improve procedures for U.S. and foreign investigators for obtaining electronic information held by service providers in the other country. In light of the growing number of mutual legal assistance requests for electronic data from U.S. service providers, the current process for access may take up to two years. The Data Access Agreement can reduce that time considerably by allowing for a more efficient and effective access to data needed, while protecting the privacy and civil liberties of the data subjects.

The Cloud Act focuses on updating legal frameworks to respond to the growing technology in electronic communications and service systems. It further enables the U.S. and other countries to enter into a mutual executive Agreement in order to use own legal authorities to access electronic evidence in the other respective country. An Agreement of this form can only be signed by rights-respecting countries, after it has been certified by the U.S. Attorney General to the U.S. Congress that their laws have robust substansive and procedural protections for privacy and civil liberties.

The Agreement between the U.K. and the U.S.A. further assures providers that the requested disclosures are compatible with data protection laws in both respective countries.

In addition to the Agreement with the United Kingdom, there have been talks between the United States and Australia on Monday, reporting negotiations for such an Agreement between the two countries. Other negotiations have also been held between the U.S. and the European Commission, representing the European Union, in regards to a Data Access Agreement.

Category: General · UK · USA
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London’s King’s Cross station facial recognition technology under investigation by the ICO

11. September 2019

Initially reported by the Financial Times, London’s King’s Cross station is under crossfire for making use of a live face-scanning system across its 67 acres large site. Developed by Argent, it was confirmed that the system has been used to ensure public safety, being part of a number of detection and tracking methods used in terms of surveillance at the famous train station. While the site is privately owned, it is widely used by the public and houses various shops, cafes, restaurants, as well as office spaces with tenants like, for example, Google.

The controversy behind the technology and its legality stems from the fact that it records everyone in its parameters without their consent, analyzing their faces and compairing them to a database of wanted criminals, suspects and persons of interest. While Developer Argent defended the technology, it has not yet explained what the system is, how it is used and how long it has been in place.

A day before the ICO launched its investigation, a letter from King’s Cross Chief Executive Robert Evans reached Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, explaining the matching of the technology against a watchlist of flagged individuals. In effect, if footage is unmatched, it is blurred out and deleted. In case of a match, it is only shared with law enforcement. The Metropolitan Police Service has stated that they have supplied images for a database to carry out facial scans to system, though it claims to not have done so since March, 2018.

Despite the explanation and the distinct statements that the software is abiding by England’s data protection laws, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into the technology and its use in the private sector. Businesses would need to explicitly demonstrate that the use of such surveillance technology is strictly necessary and proportionate for their legitimate interests and public safety. In her statement, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham further said that she is deeply concerned, since “scanning people’s faces as they lawfully go about their daily lives, in order to identify them, is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all,” especially if its being done without their knowledge.

The controversy has sparked a demand for a law about facial recognition, igniting a dialogue about new technologies and future-proofing against the yet unknown privacy issues they may cause.

Category: GDPR · General · UK
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