Archive for the ‘95 directive’ Category

Are DPA notifications obsolete?

Posted on October 27th, 2014 by



For almost 10 years I’ve been practising data protection law and advising multinational organizations on their strategic approach to global data processing operations. Usually, when it comes to complying with European data protection law, notifying the organization’s data processing activities with the national data protection authorities (DPAs) is one of the most burdensome exercises. It may look simple, but companies often underestimate the work involved to do this.

As a reminder, article 18 of the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC requires data controllers (or their representatives in Europe) to notify the DPA prior to carrying out their processing operations. In practise, this means that they must file a notification with the DPA in each Member State in which they are processing personal data, which specifies who is the data controller, the types of data that are collected, the purpose(s) for processing such data, whether any of that data gets transferred outside the EEA and how individuals can exercise their privacy rights.

In a perfect world, this would be a fairly straightforward process whereby organizations would simply file a single notification with the DPA in every Member State. But that would be too easy! The reality is that DPA notification procedures are not harmonized in Europe, which means that organizations must comply with the notification procedures of each Member State as defined by national law. As a result, each DPA has established its own notification rules which impose a pre-established notification form, procedure, and formalities on data controllers. Europe is not the only region to have notification rules. In Latin America, organizations must file a notification in Argentina, Uruguay in Peru. And several African countries (usually those who are members of the “Francophonie” such as Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, and the Ivory Coast) have also adopted data protection laws requiring data controllers to notify their data processing activities.

Failing to comply with this requirement puts your organization at risk with the DPAs who have the power in some countries to conduct audits and inspections of an organization’s processing activities. If a company is found to be in violation of the law, some DPAs may impose sanctions (such as fines, public warnings) or order the data to be blocked or the data processing to cease immediately. Furthermore, companies may also be sanctioned by the national courts. For example, on October 8th, 2014, the labour chamber of the French Court of Cassation (the equivalent to the Supreme Court for civil and criminal matters) ruled that an employer could not use the data collected via the company’s messaging system as evidence to lay-off one of its employees for excessively using that messaging service for private purposes (i.e., due to the high number of private emails transiting via the messaging service) because the company had failed to notify the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) prior to monitoring the use of the messaging service.

One could also argue that notifications may get scrapped altogether by the draft Data Protection Regulation (currently being discussed by the European legislator) and so companies will no longer be required to notify their data processing activities to the regulator. True, but don’t hold your breath for too long! The draft Regulation is currently stuck in the Council of ministers, and assuming it does get adopted by the European legislator, the most realistic date of adoption could be 2016. Given that the text has a two-year grace period before it comes into force, the Regulation would not come into force before 2018. And in its last meeting of October 3rd, 2014, the Council agreed to reach a partial general approach on the text of chapter IV of the draft Regulation on the understanding that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

So, are DPA notifications obsolete? The answer is clearly “no”. If you’re thinking: “why all the fuss? Do I really need to go through all this bureaucracy?” think again! The reason organizations must notify their data processing activities to the DPAs is simple: it’s the law. Until the Data Protection Regulation comes into force (and even then, some processing activities may still require the DPA’s prior approval), companies must continue to file their notifications. Doing so is a necessary component of any global privacy compliance project. It requires organizations to strategize their processing operations and to prioritize the jurisdictions in which they are developing their business. And failing to do so simply puts your organization at risk.

This article was first published in the IAPP’s Privacy Tracker on October 23rd, 2014.

Subject access requests and data retention: two sides of the same coin?

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by



Over the past year or so, there’s been a decided upswing in the number of subject access requests made by individuals to organizations that crunch their data.  There are a number of reasons for this, but they’re principally driven by a greater public awareness of privacy rights in a post-Snowden era and following the recent Google “Right to be Forgotten” decision.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “subject access request”, then in simple terms it’s a right enshrined in EU law for an individual to contact an organization and ask it (a) whether it processes any personal information about the individual in question, and (b) if so, to supply a copy of that information.

A subject access request is a powerful transparency tool for individuals: the recipient organization has to provide the requested information within a time period specified by law, and very few exemptions apply.  However, these requests often prove disproportionately costly and time-consuming for the organizations that receive them – think about how much data your organization holds, and then ask yourself how easy it would be to pull all that data together to respond to these types of requests.  Imagine, for example, all the data held in your CRM databases, customer support records, IT access logs, CCTV footage, HR files, building access records, payroll databases, e-mail systems, third party vendors and so on – picture that, and you get the idea.

In addition, while many subject access requests are driven by a sincere desire for data processing transparency, some (inevitably) are made with legal mischief in mind – for example, the disgruntled former employee who makes a subject access request as part of a fishing expedition to try to find grounds for bringing an unfair dismissal claim, or the representative from a competitor business looking for grounds to complain about the recipient organization’s data compliance.  Because of these risks, organizations are often hesitant about responding to subject access requests in case doing so attracts other, unforeseen and unknown, liabilities.

But, if you’re a data controlling business facing this conundrum, don’t expect any regulatory sympathy.  Regulators can only enforce the law as it exists today, and this expects prompt, comprehensive disclosure.  Not only that, but the fact that subject access requests prove costly and resource intensive to address serves a wider regulatory goal: namely, applying pressure on organizations to reduce the amount of data they hold, consistent with the data protection principle of “data minimization”.

Therefore, considering that data storage costs are becoming cheaper all the time and that, in a world of Big Data, data collection is growing at an exponential rate, subject access becomes one of the most important – if not the most important – tool regulators have for encouraging businesses to minimize the data they retain.  The more data you hold, the more data you have to disclose in response to a subject access request – and the more costly and difficult that is to do.  This, in turn, makes adopting a carefully thought-out data retention policy much more attractive, whatever other business pressures there may be to keep data indefinitely.  Retain data for just a year or two, and there’ll be an awful lot less you need to disclose in response to a subject access request.  At the same time, your organization will enhance its overall data protection compliance.

So what does all this mean?  When considering your strategy for responding to subject access requests, don’t consider it in isolation; think also about how it dovetails with your data retention strategy.  If you’re an in-house counsel or CPO struggling to get business stakeholder buy-in to adopt a comprehensive data retention strategy, use subject access risk as a means of achieving this internal buy-in.  The more robust your data retention policies, the more readily you’ll be able to fulfill subject access requests within the timescales permitted by law and with less effort, reducing complaints and enhancing compliance.  Conversely, with weaker (or non-existent) data retention policies, your exposure will be that much greater.

Subject access and data retention are therefore really just two sides of the same coin – and you wouldn’t base your compliance on just a coin toss, would you?

German Federal Court further strengthens review platforms

Posted on September 24th, 2014 by



With ever increasing relevance of online review platforms, the discussion about the platform´s red lines becomes more and more heated in Germany. The Federal Court of Justice now issued its second decision in this area within only a couple of months. This time, a medical practitioner demanded his profile to be completely deleted on a review platform focusing on health care professionals, arguing on the basis of unlawful processing of his personal data.

The case concerned a typical review platform where users may search for information about health care professionals. Aside from the review content, information such as name, address, expertise, contact data and opening hours are accessible on the platform. Users have to register with their email address before posting a review.

The Federal Court dismissed the claim. The court held that the platform´s freedom of communication outweighs the claimant´s right in informational self-determination, which forms the constitutional-right basis for privacy rights under German law. According to the court, it is legitimate for the platform provider to publish the practitioner´s profile and the review content based on Sec. 29 German Data Protection Act. This result does not come as a surprise, as the Federal Court already decided on a similar case back in 2008 that a teacher cannot request to be deleted from a review platform dedicated to teachers.

What is slightly more surprising is that the court made some remarks emphasizing that the practitioner would be “not insignificantly” burdened by the publication of reviews on the portal, as he may face adverse economic effects caused by negative reviews. However, the court saw even a greater weight in the public´s interest in information about medical services, in particular as the publication would only concern the “social sphere” of the claimant, rather than his private or intimate sphere.

In July 2014, the Federal Court also dismissed a claim for disclosure of contact details of a reviewer who repeatedly posted defamatory statements on a review platform.

 

 

Challenges in global data residency laws – and how to solve them

Posted on September 13th, 2014 by



Whoever would have thought that, in a world where it seems nearly everything is connected, we would still have laws requiring that data be held within specific territories or regions?  Yet it seems that as more and more data moves online, is stored in the cloud, and gets transmitted all around the world and back in the blink of an eye, governments become ever more determined to introduce territorial restrictions limiting the movement of data.

The best known example of this is the EU’s Data Protection Directive which forbids movement of personal data outside of Europe to territories that do not provide “adequate” data protection – or, in layman’s speak, territories that the EU doesn’t consider to be safe.  This rule can be dated back to a technological world where data sat in a single database on a single server, and legislators sought to guard against businesses moving data outside of the EU in an attempt to circumvent European data protection laws.  Against that backdrop, it was a very sensible rule to introduce.  20 years on from its adoption, it now starts to look a little long in the tooth.

The problem is that legislative and regulatory thinking hasn’t advanced a great deal in that time.  Within those communities, there’s still a perception that data can, somehow, be kept within a single territory or region and not accessed or transmitted beyond those boundaries – or that, if it must, then implementing a standard form data protection agreement (so-called “model clauses”) between the ‘data exporter’ and the ‘data importer’ somehow solves the problem.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t.  Denying that international data movements are an integral and necessary part of the global data economy is like denying that the earth moves round the sun.  Spend any time dealing with cloud vendors, or social media platforms, or interest based advertising providers, and you’ll quickly learn that data gets stored in multiple geographic locations, often through chains of different subcontractors, and tens, hundreds and perhaps even thousands of different databases.  With that knowledge, legislating that data should be kept in-territory or in-region is at best pointless.  At worst, it’s economically disastrous.

More than that, thinking that a ‘one size fits all’ set of model clause terms will somehow prove relevant across the multiplicity of different online business models that exist out there – or (and let’s be honest) that businesses executing those terms can and will actually comply with them – is nothing but a bad case of denial.

But despite this, these so-called ‘data residency’ laws only seem to be growing in favour – inevitably spurred in part through both post-Snowden mistrust of other countries’ data protection regimes and in part through misguided economic self-interest.  Other than the 31 countries in the European Economic Area that have adopted data residency requirements, other countries including Israel, Russia, Switzerland and South Africa (in EMEA), Argentina, Canada, Mexico and Uruguay (in the Americas), and Australia, India, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea (in APAC) all have there own data residency rules.

The great irony here is that these rules will not prevent international movements of data.  They won’t even hamper them to the slightest degree.  Data will move beyond boundaries just as it always has, only at an ever quicker and more voluminous rate.  All of which begs the question: if data residency rules are to have this head on collision with increasingly globalised use of data, what can businesses do to comply?

For any large multinational organisation, there really in only one solution: Binding Corporate Rules.  Model clauses contain too many stiff and unworkable provisions that any commercial organisation would be very hesitant to sign – and, once the business reaches any sort of global scale, the prospect of regularly signing exponential numbers of model clauses becomes quickly very unattractive indeed.  Safe harbor is a fine solution, but only for transfers of data from Europe and Switzerland to the US and, with the future of safe harbor currently in doubt, doesn’t offer the longevity on which to build a robust compliance platform.

So that leave Binding Corporate Rules, which are specifically designed for large multinationals moving large volumes of data and for whom safe harbor and model clauses are not options.  More than that, Binding Corporate Rules have a regulatory recognition that extends beyond Europe – being expressly recognised in many non-EU countries as a valid solution for overcoming strict national data residency rules (Canada, Israel, South Africa, Singapore and Switzerland all being good examples).  And even in territories where Binding Corporate Rules don’t have express regulatory recognition, they’re at least generally tolerated as compliant with local data export regimes.

In the current political climate, it’s highly unlikely that data residency rules will relax in the short- to mid-term.  At the same time, data protection rules are only set to get stricter and carry greater risk (interesting fact: in 2011 there were 76 countries with data protection laws; by 2013 there were 101; and there are currently another 24 countries with new incoming privacy laws). Businesses with any kind of global footprint need to prepare for this and build out their data governance programs accordingly, with Binding Corporate Rules offering the most widely recognised and future-proofed solution.

The legal and practical realities of “personal data”

Posted on September 3rd, 2014 by



Are IP addresses personal data?  It’s a question I’m so frequently asked that I thought I’d pause for a moment to reflect on how the scope of “personal data” has changed since the EU Data Protection Directive’s adoption in 1995.

The Directive itself defines personal data as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity“.

That’s not the beginning and the end of the story though.  Over the years, various regulatory guidance has been published that has further shaped what we understand by the term “personal data”.  This guidance has taken the form of papers published by the Article 29 Working Party (most notably Opinion 4/2007 on the Concept of Personal Data) and by national regulators like the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (see here).  Then throw in various case law that has touched on this issue, like the Durant case in the UK and the European Court of Justice rulings in Bodil Lindqvist (Case C-101/01) and the Google Right to Be Forgotten case (C-131/12), and it’s apparent that an awful lot of time has been spent thinking about this issue by an awful lot of very clever people.

The danger, though, is that the debate over what is and isn’t personal data can often get so weighted down in academic posturing, that the practical realities of managing data often get overlooked.  When I’m asked whether or not data is personal, it’s typically a loaded question: the enquirer wants to know whether the data in question can be retained indefinitely, or whether it can be withheld from disclosures made in response to a subject access request, or whether it can be transferred internationally without restriction.  If the data’s not personal, then the answer is: yes, yes and yes.  If it is personal, then the enquirer needs to start thinking about how to put in place appropriate compliance measures for managing that data.

There are, of course, data types that are so obviously personal that it would be churlish to pretend otherwise: no one could claim that a name, address or telephone number isn’t personal.  But what should you do when confronted with something like an IP address, a global user ID, or a cookie string?  Are these data types “personal”?  If you’re a business trying to operationalise a privacy compliance program, an answer of “maybe” just doesn’t cut it.  Nor does an answer of “err on the side of caution and treat it as personal anyway”, as this can lead to substantial engineering and compliance costs in pursuit of a vague – and possibly even unwarranted – benefit.

So what should you do?  Legal purists might start exploring whether these data types “relate” to an “identified or identifiable person”, as per the Directive.  They might note that the Directive mentions “direct or indirect” identification, including by means of an “identification number” (an obvious hook for arguing an IP address is personal data).  They might explore the content, purpose or result of the data processing, as proposed by the Article 29 Working Party, or point out that these data types “enable data subjects to be ‘singled out’, even if their real names are not known.”  Or they might even argue the (by now slightly fatigued) argument that these data types relate to a device, not to a person – an argument that may once have worked in a world where a single computer was shared by a family of four, but that now looks increasingly weak in a world where your average consumer owns multiple devices, each with multiple unique IDs.

There is an alternative, simpler test though: ask yourself why this data is processed in the first place and what the underlying individuals would therefore expect as a consequence.  For example: Is it collected just to prevent online fraud or is it instead being put to use for targeting purposes? Depending on your answer, would individuals therefore expect to receive a bunch of cookie strings in response to a subject access request?  How would they feel about you retaining their IP address indefinitely if it was held separately from other personal identifiers?

The answers to these questions will of course vary depending on the nature of the business you run – it’s difficult to imagine a Not For Profit realistically being expected to disclose IP addresses contained in web server logs in response to a subject access request, but perhaps not a huge stretch, say, for a targeted ad platform.   The point is simply that trying to apply black and white boundaries to what is, and isn’t, personal will, in most cases, prove an unhelpful exercise and be wholly devoid of context.  That’s why Privacy Impact Assessment are so important as a tool to assess these issues and proposed measured, proportionate responses to them.

The debate over the scope of personal data is far from over, particularly as new technologies come online and regulators and courts continue to publish decisions about what they consider to be personal.  But, faced with practical compliance challenges about how to handle data in a day-to-day context, it’s worth stepping back from legal and regulatory guidance alone.  Of course, I wouldn’t for a second advocate making serious compliance decisions in the absence of legal advice; it’s simply that decisions based on legal merit alone risk not giving due consideration to data subject trust.

And what is data protection about, if not about trust?

 

ECJ affirms individuals’ right to be forgotten

Posted on May 15th, 2014 by



Be honest: how many of us had ourselves forgotten that a profoundly important ruling from the European Court of Justice on the so-called “right to be forgotten” was imminent?  That ruling, in the case of Google v the Spanish DPA, was finally handed down on 13 May and has significant implications for all online businesses (available here).

Background

By way of background, the case concerned a Spanish national who complained to Google about online newspaper reports it had indexed relating to debt-recovery proceedings against him.  When the individual’s name was entered into Google, it brought up search results linking to newspaper announcements about these proceedings.  The actual proceedings in question dated back to 1998 and had long since been resolved.

The matter escalated through the Spanish DPA and the Spanish High Court, who referred various questions to the European Court of Justice for a ruling.  At the heart of the matter was the issue of whether an individual can exercise a “right to be forgotten” so as to require search engines to remove search results linking to personal content lawfully published on third party sites – or whether any such requests should be taken up only with the publishing sites in question.

Issues considered

The specific issues considered by the ECJ principally concerned:

  • Whether a search engine is a “controller” of personal data:  On this first question, the ECJ ruled YES, search engines are controllers of personal data.  For this purpose, the ECJ said that it was irrelevant that search engines are information-blind, treating personal data and non-personal data alike, and having no knowledge of the actual personal data processed.
  • Whether a search engine operated from outside the EU is subject to EU data protection rules if it has an EU sales subsidiary:  On this second question, the ECJ ruled YES.  Google wholly operates its search service from the US, but has a local sales subsidiary in Spain that makes online advertising sales to local customers.  On a very broad reading of the EU Data Protection Directive, the Court said that even though the processing of search data was not conducted “by” the Spanish subsidiary, it was conducted “in the context of the activities” of that subsidiary and therefore subject to EU data protection rules.  This is a particularly important point for any online business operating sales subsidiaries in the EU – in effect, this ruling means that in-territory sales subsidiaries potentially expose out-of-territory HQs and parent companies to local data protection laws.
  • Whether individuals can require search engines to remove search results about them:  Again, the ECJ ruled YES.  Having decided that a search engine is a “controller”, the ECJ ruled that an individual has the right to have search results about him or her removed if they appear to be “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes of the processing at issue“.  To this end, the ECJ said there was no need to show that the list of results “causes prejudice to the data subject” and that the right of the individual to have results removed “override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in having access to that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name“.

Why this matters

This ruling is one of the most significant – if not the most significant – data protection ruling in the EU to date, and the findings of the ECJ will come as a surprise to many.  A constant theme throughout the ECJ’s decision was its clear desire to uphold European citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy and to data protection, as enshrined in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, and it interpreted the EU’s Data Protection Directive with this consideration in mind.

Few expected that search engines could be required to remove search results linking to material posted lawfully on third party sites, but that is precisely what the ECJ has ruled in this instance.  Quite how this will work from a practical perspective is another matter: in future, when search engines receive a request to have personal data “forgotten” from their search results, they will have to tread a fine line between balancing the individual’s right to be forgotten against other relevant contextual considerations such as “the role played by the data subject in public life” and whether “the interference with the fundamental rights is justified by the preponderant interest of the general public in having, on account of its inclusion in the list of results, access to the information in question“.

Put another way, search engines will need to act not just as gateways to information on the web, but also – in some circumstances – as censors preventing access to information based on objections received.  This raises some very complex challenges in terms of balancing right to privacy against right to free speech that will clearly take time to work out.

Practical implications for online businesses

But it would be wrong to think that the relevance of this decision is limited to search engines alone.  In fact, it has much broader implications for online businesses, including that:

  • Non-EU businesses with EU sales offices risk exposure to EU data protection law:  Non-EU data hungry businesses CAN be subject to EU data protection rules simply by virtue of having local sales subsidiaries in the EU.  This is particularly critical for growth businesses expanding into the EU through the set-up of local sales offices, a common model for international expansion.
  • Data blind businesses need to comply:  Big data businesses CAN be subject to data protection rules, even if they are data blind and do not distinguish between personal and non-personal data.  A head in the sand approach will not protect against risk – any data ingesting business needs to have a clear compliance framework in place.
  • Data deletion a priority:  Individuals CAN require deletion of their data under EU law – businesses need to architecture their systems to enable data deletion on request and to adopt appropriate data retention and deletion policies.  Without these, they will face particular exposure when presented with these requests.

Taking into account the critical implications of this ruling, it’s fair to say it’s one that won’t be forgotten soon!

Creating a successful data retention policy

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 by



With the excitement generated by the recent news that the European Court of Justice has, in effect, struck down the EU’s Data Retention Directive (see our earlier post here), now seems as a good a time as any to re-visit the topic of data retention generally.

Whereas the Data Retention Directive required ISPs and telcos to hold onto communications metadata, the Data Protection Directive is sector-blind and pulls in exactly the opposite direction: put another way, it requires all businesses not to hold onto personal data for longer than is “necessary”.

That’s the kind of thing that’s easy for a lawyer to say, but difficult to implement in practice.  How do you know if it’s “necessary” to continue holding data?  How long does “necessary” last?  How do you explain to internal business stakeholders that what they consider “necessary” (i.e. commercially desirable) is not the same thing as what the law considers “necessary”?

Getting the business on-side

For any CPO, compliance officer or in-house lawyer looking to create their company’s data retention policy, you’ll need to get the business on-side.  Suggesting to the business that it deletes valuable company data after set periods of time may not initially be well-received but, for your policy to be a success, you’ll ultimately need the business’s support.

To get this buy-in, you need to communicate the advantages of a data retention policy and, fortunately, these are numerous.  Consider, for example:

  • Reduced IT expenditure:  By deleting data at defined intervals, you reduce the overall amount of data you’ll be storing.  That in turn means you need fewer systems to host that data, less archiving, back-ups and offsite storage, making significant cost savings and keeping your CFO happy.
  • Improved security:  It seems obvious, but it’s amazing how often this is overlooked.  The less you hold, the less – frankly – you have to lose.  Nobody wants to be making a data breach notification to a regulator AND explaining why they were continuing to hold on to 20 year old records in the first place.
  • Minimised data disclosures:  Most businesses are familiar with the rights individuals have to request access to their personal information, as well as the attendant business disruption these requests can cause.  As with the above point, the less data you hold, the less you’ll need to disclose in response to one of these requests (meaning the less effort – and resource – you need to put into finding that data).  This holds true for litigation disclosure requests too.
  • Legal compliance:  Last, but by no means least, you need a data retention policy for legal compliance – after all, it’s the law not to hold data for longer than “necessary”.  Imagine a DPA contacting you and asking for details of your data retention policy.  It would be a bad place to be in if you didn’t have something ready to hand over.  

Key considerations

Once you have persuaded the business that creating a data retention policy is a good idea, the next task is then to go off and design one!  This will involve input from various internal stakeholders (particularly IT staff) so it’s important you approach them with a clear vision for how to address some of the critical retention issues.

Among the important points to consider are:

  • Scope of the policy:  What data is in-scope?  Are you creating a data retention policy just for, say, HR data or across all data processed by the business?  There’s a natural tension here between achieving full compliance and keeping the project manageable (i.e. not biting off more than you can chew).  It may be easier to “prove” that your policy works on just one dataset first and then roll it out to additional, wider datasets later.
  • One-size-fits-all vs. country-by-country approach:  Do you create a policy setting one-size-fits-all retention limits across all EU (possibly worldwide) geographies, or set nationally-driven limits with the result that records kept for, say, 6 years in one country must be deleted after just two in another?  Again, the balance to be struck here is between one of compliance and risk versus practicality and ease of administration.
  • Records retention vs. data retention:  Will your policy operate at the “record” level or the “data” level?  The difference is this: a record (such as a record of a customer transaction) may comprise multiple data elements (e.g. name, cardholder number, item purchased, date etc.)  A crucial decision then is whether your policy should operate at the “record” level (so that the entire customer transaction record is deleted after [x] years) or at the “data”  level (so that, e.g., the cardholder number is deleted after [x] years but other data elements are kept for a longer period).  This is a point where it is particularly important to discuss with IT stakeholders what is actually achievable.
  • Maximum vs minimum retention periods:  Apart from setting maximum data retention periods, there may be  commercial, legal or operational reasons for the business to want to set minimum retention periods as well – e.g. for litigation defence purposes.  At an early stage, you’ll need to liaise with colleagues in HR, IT, Accounting and Legal teams to identify whether any such reasons exist and, if so, whether these should be reflected in your policy.
  • Other relevant considerations:  What other external factors will impact the data retention policy you design? Aside from legal and commercial requirements, is the business subject to, for example, sector-specific rules, agreements with local Works’ Councils, or even third party audit requirements (e.g. privacy seal certifications – particularly common in Germany)?  These factors all need to be identified and their potential impact on your data retention policy considered at an early stage.   

Getting it right at the beginning means that the subsequent stages of your data retention policy design and roll out should become much smoother – you’ll get the support you need from the business and you’ll have dealt with the difficult questions in a considered, strategic way upfront rather than in a piecemeal (and likely, inconsistent) fashion as the policy evolves.

And with so much to benefit from adopting a retention policy, why would you wait any longer?

European Parliament votes in favour of data protection reform

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by



On 12 March 2014, the European Parliament (the “Parliament”) overwhelmingly voted in favour of the European Commission’s proposal for a Data Protection Regulation (the “Data Protection Regulation”) in its plenary assembly. In total 621 members of Parliament voted for the proposals and only 10 against. The vote cemented the Parliament’s support of the data protection reform, which constitutes an important step forward in the legislative procedure. Following the vote, Viviane Reding – the EU Justice Commissioner – said that “The message the European Parliament is sending is unequivocal: This reform is a necessity, and now it is irreversible”. While this vote is an important milestone in the adoption process, there are still several steps to go before the text is adopted and comes into force.

So what happens next?

Following the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee’s report published in October 2013 (for more information on this report – see this previous article), this month’s vote  means that the Council of the European Union (the “Council”) can now formally conduct its reading of the text based on the Parliament’s amendments. Since the EU Commission made its proposal, preparatory work in the Council has been running in parallel with the Parliament. However, the Council can only adopt its position after the Parliament has acted.

In order for the proposed Data Protection Regulation to become law, both the Parliament and the Council must adopt the text in what is called the “ordinary legislative procedure” – a process in which the decisions of the Parliament and the Council have the same weight. The Parliament can only begin official negotiations with the Council as soon as the Council presents its position. It seems unlikely that the Council will accept the Parliament’s position and, on the contrary, will want to put forward its own amendments.

In the meantime, representatives of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission will probably organise informal meetings, the so-called “trilogue” meetings, with a view to reaching a first reading agreement.

The EU Justice Ministers have already met several times in Council meetings in the past months to discuss the data protection reform. Although there seems to be a large support between Member States for the proposal, they haven’t yet reached an agreement over some of the key provisions, such as the “one-stop shop” rule. The next meeting of the Council ministers is due to take place in June 2014.

Will there be further delays?

As the Council has not yet agreed its position, the speed of the development of the proposed regulation in the coming months largely depends on this being finalised. Once a position has been reached by the Council then there is also the possibility that the proposals could be amended further. If this happens, the Parliament may need to vote again until the process is complete.

Furthermore, with the elections in the EU Parliament coming up this May, this means that the whole adoption process will be put on hold until a new Parliament comes into place and a new Commission is approved in the autumn this year. Given these important political changes, it is difficult to predict when the Data Protection Regulation will be finally adopted.

It is worth noting, however, that the European heads of state and government publicly committed themselves to the ‘timely’ adoption of the data protection legislation by 2015 – though, with the slow progress made to date and work still remaining to be done, this looks a very tall order indeed.

How do EU and US privacy regimes compare?

Posted on March 5th, 2014 by



As an EU privacy professional working in the US, one of the things that regularly fascinates me is each continent’s misperception of the other’s privacy rules.  Far too often have I heard EU privacy professionals (who really should know better) mutter something like “The US doesn’t have a privacy law” in conversation; equally, I’ve heard US colleagues talk about the EU’s rules as being “nuts” without understanding the cultural sensitivities that drive European laws.

So I thought it would be worth dedicating a few lines to compare and contrast the different regimes, principally to highlight that, yes, they are indeed different, but, no, you cannot draw a conclusion from these differences that one regime is “better” (whatever that means) than the other.  You can think of what follows as a kind of brief 101 in EU/US privacy differences.

1.  Culturally, there is a stronger expectation of privacy in the EU.  It’s often said that there is a stronger cultural expectation of privacy in the EU than the US.  Indeed, that’s probably true.   Privacy in the EU is protected as a “fundamental right” under the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights – essentially, it’s akin to a constitutional right for EU citizens.  Debates about privacy and data protection evoke as much emotion in the EU as do debates about gun control legislation in the US.

2.  Forget the myth: the US DOES have data protection laws.  It’s simply not true that the US doesn’t have data protection laws.  The difference is that, while the EU has an all-encompassing data protection framework (the Data Protection Directive) that applies across every Member State, across all sectors and across all types of data, the US has no directly analogous equivalent.  That’s not the same thing as saying the US has no privacy laws – it has an abundance of them!  From federal rules designed to deal with specific risk scenarios (for example, collection of child data online is regulated under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), to sector-specific rules (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for health-related information and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act for financial information), to state-driven rules (the California Online Privacy Protection Act in California, for example – California, incidentally, also protects individuals’ right to privacy under its constitution).  So the next time someone tells you that the US has no privacy law, don’t fall for it – comparing EU and US privacy rules is like comparing apples to a whole bunch of oranges.

3.  Class actions.  US businesses spend a lot of time worrying about class actions and, in the privacy realm, there have been multiple.  Countless times I’ve sat with US clients who agonise over their privacy policy drafting to ensure that the disclosures they make are sufficiently clear and transparent in order to avoid any accusation they may have misled consumers.  Successful class actions can run into the millions of $$$ and, with that much potential liability at stake, US businesses take this privacy compliance risk very seriously.  But when was the last time you heard of a successful class action in the EU?  For that matter, when was the last time you heard of ANY kind of award of meaningful damages to individuals for breaches of data protection law?

4.  Regulatory bark vs. bite.  So, in the absence of meaningful legal redress through the courts, what can EU citizens do to ensure their privacy rights are respected?  The short answer is complain to their national data protection authorities, and EU data protection authorities tend to be very interested and very vocal.  Bodies like the Article 29 Working Party, for example, pump out an enormous volume of regulatory guidance, as do certain national data protection authorities, like the UK Information Commissioner’s Office or the French CNIL. Over in the US, American consumers also have their own heavyweight regulatory champion in the form of Federal Trade Commission which, by using its powers to take enforcement against “unfair and deceptive practices” under the FTC Act, is getting ever more active in the realm of data protection enforcement.  And look at some of the settlements it has reached with high profile companies – settlements that, in some cases, have run in excess of US$20m and resulted in businesses having to subject themselves to 20 year compliance audits.  By contrast, however vocal EU DPAs are, their powers of enforcement are typically much more limited, with some even lacking the ability to fine.

So those are just some of the big picture differences, but there are so many more points of detail a well-informed privacy professional ought to know – like how the US notion of “personally identifiable information” contrasts with EU “personal data”, why the US model of relying on consent to legitimise data processing is less favoured in the EU, and what the similarities and differences are between US “fair information practice principles” and EU “data protection principles”.

That’s all for another time, but for now take away this:  while they may go about it in different ways, the EU and US each share a common goal of protecting individuals’ privacy rights.  Is either regime perfect?  No, but each could sure learn a lot from the other.

 

 

 

What a 21st Century Privacy Law Could – and Should – Achieve

Posted on January 22nd, 2014 by



It’s no secret that the EU’s proposed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) hangs in the balance. Some have even declared it dead (see here), though, to paraphrase Mark Twain, those reports are somewhat exaggerated. Nevertheless, 2014 will prove a pivotal year for privacy in the European Union: Either we’ll see some variant of the proposed regulation adopted in one form or another, or we’ll be heading back to the drawing board.

So much has already been said and written about what will happen if the GDPR is not adopted by May  that it does not need repeating here. Though, for my part, I’d be quite happy to return to the drawing board: Better, I think, to start again and design a good law than to adopt legislation for the sake of it—no matter how ill-suited it is to modern-day data processing standards.

With that in mind, I thought I’d reflect on what I think a fighting-fit 21st century data protection law ought to achieve, keeping in mind the ultimate aims of protecting citizens’ rights, promoting technological innovation and fostering economic growth:

1. A modern data privacy law should be simple, objectives-focused and achievable.  The GDPR is, quite simply, a lawyer’s playground, a lengthy document of breathtaking complexity that places far more emphasis on process than on outcome. It cannot possibly hope to be understood by the very stakeholders it aims to protect: European citizens. A modern data privacy law should be understandable by all—and especially by the very stakeholders whose interests it is intended to protect. Further, a modern privacy law needs to focus on outcomes. Ultimately, its success will be judged by whether it arrived at its destination (did it keep data private and secure?) not the journey by which it got there (how much paper did it create?).

2. A modern privacy law should recognize and reflect the role of the middleman.  Whether you’re a user of mobile services, the consumer Internet or cloud-based services, access to your data will in some way be controlled by an intermediary third party: the iOS, Android or Windows mobile platforms whose APIs control access to your device data, the web browser that blocks or accepts third-party tracking technologies by default or the cloud platform that provides the environment for remotely hosted data processing services. Yet these “middlemen” —for want of a better term—simply aren’t adequately reflected in either current or proposed EU privacy law, which instead prefers an outmoded binary world of “controllers” and “processors.” This means that, to date, we have largely relied on the goodwill of platform providers—Are they controllers? Are they processors?—to build controls and default settings into their platforms that prevent unwarranted access to our data by the applications we use. A modern data privacy law would recognize and formalize the important role played by these middlemen, requiring them to step up to the challenge of protecting our data.

3. A modern data privacy law would categorize sensitive data by reference to the data we REALLY care about.  Europe’s definition of sensitive—or “special”—personal data has long been a mystery to me. Do we really still expect information about an individual’s trade union membership or political beliefs to be categorized as sensitive when their bank account details and data about their children are not treated as sensitive in Europe—unlike the U.S.? A modern data privacy law would impose a less rigid concept of sensitive personal data, one that takes a greater account of context and treats as sensitive the information that people really care about—and not the information they don’t.

4. A modern privacy law would encourage anonymization and pseudonymization.  Sure, we all know that true anonymization is virtually impossible, that if you have a large enough dataset of anonymized data and compare it with data from this source and that source, eventually you might be able to actually identify someone. But is that really a good enough reason to expect organizations to treat anonymized and pseudonymized data as though they are still “personal” data, with all the regulatory consequences that entails? From a policy perspective, this just disincentivises anonymization and pseudonymization—why bother, if it doesn’t reduce regulatory burden? That’s plainly the wrong result. A modern data privacy law would recognize that not all data is created equal, and that appropriately anonymized and pseudonymized data deserve lesser restrictions as to their use—or reuse—and disclosure. Without this, we cannot hope to realize the full benefits of Big Data and the societal advances it promises to deliver.

5. A modern privacy law would not impose unrealistic restrictions on global movements of data.  The Internet has happened; get over it. Data will forever more move internationally, left, right, up and down across borders, and no amount of regulation and red tape is going to stop that. Nor will Europe’s bizarre obsession with model clauses. And when it comes to surveillance, law enforcement will always do what law enforcement will do: Whilst reigning in excessive government surveillance is undoubtedly crucial, that ultimately is an issue to be resolved at a political level, not at the business regulatory level. A modern data privacy law should concern itself not with where data is processed but why it is processed and how it is protected. So long as data is kept secure and processed in accordance with the controller’s legal obligations and in keeping with its data subjects’ reasonable expectations, it should be free to process that data wherever in the world it likes. Maintaining unrealistic restrictions on international data exports at best achieves little—organizations will do it any way using check-box solutions like model clauses—and, at worst, will adversely impact critical technology developments like the cloud.

6. A modern privacy law would recognize that consent is NOT the best way to protect people’s privacy.  I’ve argued this before, but consent does not deliver the level of protection that many think it does. Instead, it drives lazy, check-box compliance models—“he/she ticked the box, so now I can do whatever I like with their data.” A modern law would acknowledge that, while consent will always be an important weapon in the privacy arsenal, it should not be the weapon of choice. There must always be other ways of legitimizing data processing and, perhaps, other than in the context of sensitive personal information, these should be prioritized over consent. At the same time, if consent is to play a lesser role in legitimizing processing at the outset, then the rights given to individuals to object to processing of their data once it has begun must be bolstered—without this, you place too much responsibility in the hands of controllers to decide when and why to process data with no ability for individuals to restrain unwanted intrusions into their privacy. There’s a delicate balance to be struck, but a modern data privacy law would not shy away from finding this balance. Indeed, given the emergence of the Internet of Things, finding this balance is now more important than ever.

There’s so much more that could be said, and the above proposals represent just a handful of suggestions that any country looking to adopt new privacy laws—or reform existing ones—would be well-advised to consider. You can form your own views as to whether the EU’s proposed GDPR—or indeed any privacy law anywhere in the world—achieves these recommendations. If they don’t now, then they really should; otherwise, we’ll just be applying 20th-century thinking to a 21st-century world.

This post was first published on the IAPP’s Privacy Perspectives blog, available at https://www.privacyassociation.org/privacy_perspectives/