Data protection digest 17 June – 2 July 2023: rules on GDPR fines, controllers’ BCRs and ‘right to know’

TechGDPR’s review of international data-related stories from press and analytical reports.

Legal processes

New rules on GDPR fines: New rules, issued by the EDPB, are now in effect for calculating fines for companies that violate the GDPR. All privacy supervisors in the EU will calculate the size of fines in the same way. The size and turnover of a company will play a major role. Companies can find in the guidelines which amount is used as a starting point for calculating the fine for a particular violation and the severity level for a company of their size. 

US State legislation: More state privacy laws have joined the ranks of those in the US enacting such legislation – Montana, Florida, and Texas. California, Virginia, Colorado, Utah, and Connecticut were the five states with consumer privacy laws in 2022, with all of them slated to go into effect in 2023. Early this year, Iowa, Indiana, and Tennessee passed their own privacy legislation, that will take effect by 2025 or 2026. In many circumstances, the new legislation compels covered entities to recognize opt-out preferences for users and to include particular disclosures in the sale of sensitive personal data or biometric data.

Foreign Surveillance: The White House is putting pressure on to reauthorize an electronic surveillance law that allows the targeted monitoring of foreign individuals. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702 is due to sunset at the end of the year. While the program is designed to acquire information on non-Americans residing outside the US, it also collects information on their conversations with US citizens. Curbing US state surveillance practices is also a cornerstone of the future EU-US Data Privacy Framework, which is now being considered by the EU Commission for adoption. 

Official guidance

Updated BCR-C: The EDPB approved the recommendations regarding Controller Binding Corporate Rules. All data controllers using BCRs must update the rules they use to comply with the new recommendations. It clarifies, among other things, what should be included in the controller’s BCR rules, and what must be presented in the BCR application. The recommendations also include an updated standard application form for the BCRs. All users of the BCRs and those applying for approval under them must bring themselves into compliance either during the application process or as part of the annual update, depending on their situation. The EDPB is currently drafting recommendations on the BCRs for personal data processors as well.

Data subject complaints: Another form issued by the EDPB makes it easier for individuals to make complaints to data protection authorities in the EU and EEA. Its use is voluntary for data protection authorities, and they can modify the model to suit their national requirements. The form can be used in cases where a private person files a complaint, or cases where someone else files a complaint, (a legal representative or an entity acting on behalf of an individual).

Age assurance tech:  The “Future of Privacy Forum” organisation publishes infographics on age assurance technology. The analysis outlines the three categories of age assurance, their risks and advantages: a) Age declaration, (age gate, parental consent/vouching); b) Age estimation, (facial characterisation and other algorithmic estimation methods based on browsing history, voice, gait, or data points/signals); c) Age verification, (government, biometrics or digital ID). another report by the organisation looks at verifiable parental consent, a form of age declaration and requirement of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and its analyses of new children’s privacy laws in various US states.

‘Gestiona’ tool: The Spanish data protection agency has launched a new version of its Gestiona tool, aimed especially at small public or private entities,  which allows managing records of processing activities, carrying out risk management and, where appropriate, providing support for carrying out impact assessments. The tool now has a more intuitive design and incorporates the latest guidelines. The management is carried out in the user’s own browser, without data being transmitted to the regulator.. The information can be stored in a file on the user’s computer and retrieved after each session.

PETs: The UK Information Commissioner’s Office issued guidance that discusses privacy-enhancing technologies in detail. The first part of the guidance is aimed at DPOs, (data protection officers) and those with specific data protection responsibilities in larger organisations. The second part is intended for a more technical audience, and for DPOs who want to understand more detail about the types of PETs that are currently available. It gives a brief introduction to eight types of PETs and explains their risks and benefits, with reference tables and case studies. 

Case Law

‘Right to know’: The CJEU stated that every person has the right to know the date of and the reasons for the consultation of their personal data. In the related case, an employee of a bank, who was also their client, had requested information about the persons who had reviewed his customer information in connection with an internal audit. The bank had refused to disclose the identity of the employees who performed the review but disclosed the reasons and other details. The CJEU states that a person has the right to receive a ‘copy’ of information about the inquiries, such as log data, (eg, it may show the frequency of the review). However, the data subject does not have the right to receive information about the identity of the reviewer, under the authority of the data controller.

DPO’s conflict of interest: In a recent ruling, (not yet published in full), the German Federal Labour Court, (‘BAG’), has decided that the chair of a works council is not eligible to serve as DPO, Ius Laboris Law blog reports. In the case in question, following GDPR instructions, an employer twice dismissed the works council chairman as DPO as a precautionary measure. Before deciding that the revocation of the appointment had been justified, the court had referred the question to the CJEU. 

The CJEU ruled that the roles of works council chair and DPO could not be undertaken by the same individual without creating a conflict of interest. Because the works council decides the aims and means of processing personal data, (as required by applicable laws), the works council chair is unable to supervise data protection law compliance in a sufficiently independent manner. The court clearly left open the question of whether all members of the works council are barred from acting as DPO. However, the conflict of interest considerations may exist for them as well. 

Enforcement decisions

IAB Europe’s TCF update: Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe, (the European-level association for the digital marketing and advertising ecosystem), launched an updated Transparency & Consent Framework in response to industry demand and the Belgian data protection authority action plan. Among changes, the TCF includes revised purpose names and descriptions, new retention periods, the removal of the legitimate interest legal basis for advertising and content personalisation, the introduction of data categories used in conjunction with the purposes, and a more robust vendor compliance program. Participants will have until the end of the third quarter of 2023 to adopt it.

User profiling for direct marketing: The Swedish Privacy Protection Agency issued a sanction of approx. 1 mln euros against Bonnier News, because the group profiled its customers and web visitors without their consent. The company, as a stated legitimate interest, collects information from several different sources for targeted advertising on the web and marketing via physical mail and telephone sales. The data includes information about purchases made in various companies in the group and surfing behaviour. In some cases, this information is also combined with other personal data that is bought in from outside, such as information about the customer’s gender, the household’s car ownership and postcode, as well as statistical information based on the individual’s area of ​​residence such as stage of life, purchasing power and type of residence.

Facial recognition at stadiums: The Danish data protection authority reauthorized Brøndby football club’s use of facial recognition at stadiums for its matches. Brøndby will be able to use images from surveillance cameras to register individuals who violate the rules of order so that such persons can be apprehended when they subsequently try to access the stadium again. The club must ensure it observes the duty of disclosure when collecting the personal data of individuals concerned and provide information that access control is being carried out. The storage period for such data would be for 30 days or even longer. 

Personalised ads: Criteo, which specialises in “behavioural retargeting”, was fined 40 million euros in France for failing to verify an individual’s consent and the fulfilment of data subject rights. The company collects the browsing data of Internet users thanks to its cookie which is placed on their terminals when they visit certain e-commerce websites. The company determines which advertiser and which product would be most relevant to display to a particular user. Then, it participates in real-time bidding to display it. Additionally, when a person exercises their right to withdraw consent or deletion of their data, the process implemented by the company only stops the display of personalised advertisements to the user and does not delete the identifier assigned to the person or erase navigational history. 

E-mail service provider: The Finnish data protection authority has issued a notice to an e-mail service provider, as the company had not offered the user the possibility to transfer their e-mail messages from the service as required by the GDPR. Users of the free version of the e-mail service had the option to manually export their messages one at a time. Instead, customers who paid for the use of the service were offered tools that made it possible to export messages in bulk. As a rule, the registered person must receive his personal data in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format, and the controller must not make it difficult or prevent the transfer of data, (Art. 20 of the GDPR “Right to data portability”).

Data security

Mobile device data: In an effort to assist organisations with deployment strategies, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology released a revised guide for managing the security of mobile devices in the enterprise. The publication provides a five-step enterprise mobile device deployment life cycle:

  • Identify Mobile Requirements, (Bring Your Own Device or Corporate-Owned and Personally-Enabled is selected).
  • Perform Risk Assessment, (performed on a regular basis).
  • Implement Enterprise Mobility Strategy, (management, policies, configurations, system testing, additional security).
  • Operate and Maintain, (control settings, periodic audits).
  • Dispose of and/or Reuse Devices. 

Big Tech

Draft Data Act: The Council and the Parliament reached an agreement on rules to access and use data collected in the EU across all economic sectors, where the data are generated through smart objects, machines, and devices. The Data Act will provide consumers more control over their data by strengthening portability rights, interoperability standards, and safeguards against unlawful data transfers by service providers. The Data Act takes into account current horizontal and sectorial laws including the GDPR. 

It has received criticism from a variety of sources, including by the crypto industry bodies on the wide classification of smart contracts as “computer programs.” Smart contracts might potentially be constructed to provide an access control mechanism, but this would undermine the technology’s basic functions. Concerns were expressed by software businesses about a clause requiring corporations to share data that might jeopardize trade secrets. Furthermore, some scientists are concerned that the Data Act would favor companies in its goal of expanding access rights to big data, and that publicly financed science will suffer as a result.

Metaverse: Finally, the EU Parliament issued a comprehensive analysis of the Metaverse. Commercial, industrial and military applications bring both opportunities as well as significant concerns for everyday life, health, work, and security, says the paper. The metaverse can be provided by public or private actors for single users or as a networking platform. It can mirror reality, create a simulation of an entirely new space and actors , or mix both. Forecasts indicate that we are experiencing a decade of metaverse and that it will take 6 to 8 years to achieve its full potential. However, important elements of the metaverse such as digital ethics, digital twins, blockchain, generative AI, tokenization, or digital humans will start to have significant impact much earlier, (1 to 3 years and 3 to 6 years). See the full report here.

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