GDPR May 25th Deadline Approaching – Businesses Globally Will Feel Impact

In less than four months, the General Data Protection Regulation (the “GDPR” or the “Regulation”) will take effect in the European Union/European Economic Area, giving individuals in the EU/EEA greater control over their personal data and imposing a sweeping set of privacy and data protection rules on data controllers and data processors alike. Failure to comply with the Regulation’s requirements could result in substantial fines of up to the greater of €20 million or 4% of a company’s annual worldwide gross revenues. Although many American companies that do not have a physical presence in the EU/EEA may have been ignoring GDPR compliance based on the mistaken belief that the Regulation’s burdens and obligations do not apply outside of the EU/EEA, they are doing so at their own peril.

A common misconception is that the Regulation only applies to EU/EEA-based corporations or multinational corporations with operations within the EU/EEA. However, the GDPR’s broad reach applies to any company that is offering goods or services to individuals located within the EU/EEA or monitoring the behavior of individuals in the EU/EEA, even if the company is located outside of the European territory. All companies within the GDPR’s ambit also must ensure that their data processors (i.e., vendors and other partners) process all personal data on the companies’ behalf in accordance with the Regulation, and are fully liable for any damage caused by their vendors’ non-compliant processing. Unsurprisingly, companies are using indemnity and insurance clauses in data processing agreements with their vendors to contractually shift any damages caused by non-compliant processing activities back onto the non-compliant processors, even if those vendors are not located in the EU/EEA. As a result, many American organizations that do not have direct operations in the EU/EEA nevertheless will need to comply with the GDPR because they are receiving, storing, using, or otherwise processing personal data on behalf of customers or business partners that are subject to the Regulation and its penalties. Indeed, all companies with a direct or indirect connection to the EU/EEA – including business relationships with entities that are covered by the Regulation – should be assessing the potential implications of the GDPR for their businesses.

Compliance with the Regulation is a substantial undertaking that, for most organizations, necessitates a wide range of changes, including:

  • Implementing “Privacy by Default” and “Privacy by Design”;
  • Maintaining appropriate data security;
  • Notifying European data protection agencies and consumers of data breaches on an expedited basis;
  • Taking responsibility for the security and processing of third-party vendors;
  • Conducting “Data Protection Impact Assessments” on new processing activities;
  • Instituting safeguards for cross-border transfers; and
  • Recordkeeping sufficient to demonstrate compliance on demand.

Failure to comply with the Regulation’s requirements carries significant risk. Most prominently, the GDPR empowers regulators to impose fines for non-compliance of up to the greater of €20 million or 4% of worldwide annual gross revenue. In addition to fines, regulators also may block non-compliant companies from accessing the EU/EEA marketplace through a variety of legal and technological methods. Even setting these potential penalties aside, simply being investigated for a potential GDPR violation will be costly, burdensome and disruptive, since during a pending investigation regulators have the authority to demand records demonstrating a company’s compliance, impose temporary data processing bans, and suspend cross-border data flows.

The impending May 25, 2018 deadline means that there are only a few months left for companies to get their compliance programs in place before regulators begin enforcement. In light of the substantial regulatory penalties and serious contractual implications of non-compliance, any company that could be required to meet the Regulation’s obligations should be assessing their current operations and implementing the necessary controls to ensure that they are processing personal data in a GDPR-compliant manner.


© 2018 Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP.
More on the GDPR at the NLR European Union Jurisdiction Page.

Navigating Connected Cars in 2017: Data Protection

connected carsIt’s a fact: today’s marketplace has given connected cars the green light. As an OEM or supplier accelerating to create products to meet industry demand, what challenges can you anticipate in 2017? Here we describe where we believe your attention should be focused during the upcoming year…

Data Protection

The manufacturing industry is now one of the most hacked industries. It has been said that the modern day car is a computer on wheels. That is not quite right. The modern-day car is a network of several computers on wheels. Cars today can have 50 or more electrical control units (ECUs) – each of which is analogous to a separate computer – networked together. There will be an estimated 250 million connected cars on roads around the world by 2020. These cars will have 200 or more sensors collecting information about us, our cars and our driving habits.

With significant advances in smart phone car-connectivity and onboard infotainment systems, our cars are collecting more and more information about our daily lives and personal interactions. As a result, privacy and security of connected cars has evolved and quickly risen over the last year to a top priority of carmakers and suppliers. Here are our top 4 tips for addressing these privacy and security issues and concerns in 2017:

  • Practice “security by design.” This is a concept recently espoused by federal regulators, namely, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as industry self-regulatory organizations. With security by design, a company addresses data security controls “day 1” while products, components and devices are still on the drawing board. Data security practices evolve over time, and the days of building it first and then layering security on top are now over. Risk assessments addressing potential threats and attack targets should be dealt with during the design process. Security design reviews and product testing should be conducted throughout the development process. Secure computing, software development and networking practices should address the security of connections into, from and inside the vehicle.

  • Practice “privacy by design.” While security deals with the safeguards and measures implemented to protect the data from unauthorized access or use, privacy focuses on the right and desire of individuals to keep information about themselves confidential. During the design process, companies should understand and identify what personal information will be collected by a component or device, what notice should be provided to or consent obtained from consumers before collecting that personal information, how should the personal information be used, are those intended uses legal, with whom will the personal information be shared, and is that sharing appropriate and legal. With this information identified, the company can reconcile privacy requirements with security safeguards during the design and development process.

  • Establish an appropriate data security governance model. Executives and senior management can no longer blindly delegate data security to the security engineering team. Regulators, courts and juries are demanding that senior management become involved in and accountable for data security. While the precise governance model will depend on the nature and size of the organization, the company should actively consider what level of executive oversight is appropriate, and then document those conclusions in a data security governance policy. This will serve the dual purposes of enhancing data security of vehicles and component parts, while also bolstering the company’s defenses in the event of a security incident or investigation.

  • Address the entire supply chain. Whether it is the finished vehicle or a component part, most companies relevant to the data security ecosystem will rely on suppliers that play a role in data security. Hardware, software, development tools, assembly, integration and testing may all be provided by one or more suppliers. Companies impacted by this scenario should conduct appropriate due diligence and risk assessments with respect to its suppliers, both at the commencement, as well as periodically throughout, the relationship. Contractual provisions should also be utilized to address data security requirements for the relevant suppliers.

© 2016 Foley & Lardner LLP

EU-US Privacy Shield to Launch August 1, Replacing Safe Harbor

general data protection privacy shieldI. Introduction: Privacy Shield to Go Live August 1 (at Last)

The replacement for Safe Harbor is finally in effect, over nine months after Safe Harbor was struck down by the Court of Justice of the EU in the Schrems case. As most readers will be aware, Privacy Shield provides an important legal mechanism for transferring personal information from the EU to the US. The Department of Commerce (Commerce) has promised to launch a Privacy Shield website on August 1, 2016 that will allow companies to certify compliance with Privacy Shield.

The Privacy Shield documents are comprised of a 44-page “Adequacy Decision” and 104 pages of “Annexes” that contain key information concerning Privacy Shield’s standards and enforcement mechanisms. Companies that are considering certifying under Privacy Shield should review the entire Adequacy Decision and its Annexes, as well as the promised FAQs and other documents that the Department of Commerce will provide on the new Privacy Shield website. A good starting point for companies is Annex II, which contains the essential Privacy Shield “Principles” and a set of “Supplemental Principles” that clarify certain points and provide useful examples for putting Privacy Shield into practice.

Our summary aims to highlight key points and provide a basic roadmap as companies start to get to grips with the new Privacy Shield requirements.

II. Privacy Shield Principles

The Principles set out in Privacy Shield will be largely familiar to companies that had certified under Safe Harbor, but Privacy Shield contains a lot more detail and occasionally demands more stringent standards and actions than Safe Harbor.

1. Notice. Notice must be provided as soon as possible to the individual – preferably at the time the individual is asked to provide personal information. Notice must be given in “clear and conspicuous language.” The company must tell the individual that it participates in Privacy Shield, and must link to the Privacy Shield list that will be published on the Web by Commerce. The company must tell individuals what types of personal information are being collected, for what purposes, and with whom it may be shared. Individuals must be told how to make complaints to the company and its options for resolving disputes (which the company must select from a menu of limited alternatives, as discussed further below). The company must inform the individual of the company’s obligation to disclose personal information in response to lawful requests by public authorities, including for national security or law enforcement. A new requirement calls for the company to describe its liability with regard to transfers of the personal information to third parties (also discussed further below).

2. Choice. Choice comes into play primarily when the data controller wants to disclose personal information to a third party (other than agents under a contract) or use it for a purpose that is materially different than the purpose for which it was collected (which would have been communicated to the individual under the Notice principle). In many instances, consent can be obtained on an opt-out basis, provided that the new use or transfer has been disclosed clearly and conspicuously, and the individual is given a “readily available” means to exercise her choice. Critically, however, the transfer and processing of “sensitive” information requires the affirmative express consent of the individual, subject to a short list of exceptions described in the Supplemental Principles. An opt-out is not sufficient for sensitive information, which includes medical/health, race/ethnicity, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and information about sexuality. (As before, financial information is not considered sensitive, but companies should recall that risk-based security measures still need to be taken even if opt-out consent is used.)

3. Accountability for Onward Transfer. This Principle contains  some key differences from Safe Harbor and should be carefully reviewed by companies looking at Privacy Shield. Privacy Shield has tightened up the requirements for transferring personal information to a third party who acts as a data controller. It is not possible simply to rely on the transferee being Privacy Shield-certified. The transferor company must enter into a contract with the transferee company that specifies that the information will only be processed for “limited and specified purposes consistent with the consent provided by the individual” and that the transferee will comply with the Principles across the board. If the transferee is acting as the transferor’s agent (i.e., as a “data processor” in EU terminology) then the transferor must also take “reasonable and appropriate steps” to ensure that the transferee is processing the personal information consistently with the Principles. In all cases, the transferee must agree to notify the transferor if the transferee can no longer meet its privacy obligations. Commerce can request a summary or copy of the privacy provisions of a company’s contracts with its agents.

4. Security. The standard for data security is “reasonable and appropriate measures” to protect personal data from being compromised, taking into account the nature of the personal information that is being stored. It’s strongly implied that companies need to perform a risk assessment in order to determine precisely what measures would be reasonable and appropriate. The risk assessment and security measures should be documented in the event of an investigation or audit, and for purposes of the required annual internal review.

5. Data Integrity and Purpose Limitation. Indiscriminate collection of personal information is not permitted under Privacy Shield. Instead, personal information should be gathered for particular purposes, and only information that is relevant to those purposes can be collected. It’s not always possible to anticipate every purpose for which certain personal information might be used, so Privacy Shield allows use for additional purposes that are “not incompatible with the purpose for which it has been collected or subsequently authorized by the individual.” The benchmark for compatible processing is “the expectations of a reasonable person given the context of the collection.” Generally speaking, processing personal information for common business risk-mitigation reasons, such as anti-fraud and security purposes, will be compatible with the original purpose. Personal information cannot be retained for longer than it is needed to perform the processing that is permitted under this Principle. Additionally, companies have an affirmative obligation to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that the personal information they collect and store is “reliable for its intended use, accurate, complete, and current.” These requirements imply that periodic data cleaning may be necessary for uses that extend over a significant period of time.

6. Access. Individuals have the right to know what personal information a company holds concerning them, and to have the information corrected if it is inaccurate, or deleted if it has been processed in violation of the Privacy Shield Principles. There are a couple of exceptions: If the expense providing access is disproportionate to the risks to the individual’s privacy, or if another person’s rights would be violated by giving access, then a company can decline. Companies should use this option sparingly and document its reasons for refusing any access requests.

7. Recourse, Enforcement & Liability. One of the EU Commission’s main objectives in negotiating Privacy Shield was to ensure that the program had sharper teeth than Safe Harbor. Privacy Shield features more proactive enforcement by Commerce and the FTC, and aggrieved individuals who feel their complaints haven’t been satisfactorily resolved can bring the weight of their local DPA and Commerce to bear on the offending company. We describe the recourse, enforcement and liability requirements below in a separate section.

III. Privacy Shield Supplemental Principles

The Supplemental Principles in Annex 2 elaborate on some of the basic Principles (summarized above) and, in some cases, qualify companies’ obligations. The summary below highlights some significant points – but again, companies should read the Supplemental Principles in full to appreciate some of the nuances of the Privacy Shield requirements.

1. Sensitive Personal Data. This section sets out some exceptions to the affirmative opt-in consent requirement that mirror the exceptions in the EU Data Protection Directive.

2. Journalistic Exceptions. Privacy Shield acknowledges the significance of the First Amendment in US law. Personal information that is gathered for journalistic purposes, including from published media sources, is not subject to Privacy Shield’s requirements.

3. Secondary Liability (of ISPs, etc.) Companies acting as mere conduits of personal information, such as ISPs and telecoms providers, are not required to comply with Privacy Shield with regard to the data that travels over their networks.

4. Due Diligence and Audits. Companies performing due diligence and audits are not required to notify individuals whose personal information is processed incidental to the diligence exercise or audit. Security requirements and purpose limitations would still apply.

5. Role of the Data Protection Authorities. The Supplemental Principles describe the role of the DPA panels and the DPAs generally in greater detail. As discussed above, companies processing their own human resources information will be required to cooperate directly with the DPAs, and the Supplemental Principles seem to imply that cooperation includes designating the DPA Panels as those companies’ independent recourse mechanism. In addition to the fees attendant on this choice (capped at $500/year), companies will have to pay translation costs relating to any complaints against them.

6. Self-certification. This section outlines what the self-certification process should look like when the Privacy Shield enrollment website launches. It also contains information about what will happen when a Privacy Shield participant decides to leave the program.

7. Verification. Privacy Shield-certified companies must back up their claims with documentation. We discuss this further in the section below on enforcement.

8. Access. This section describes access requirements in more detail and also gives some guidance as to when access requests can be refused.

9. Human Resources Data. Companies planning to use Privacy Shield for the transfer of EU human resources data will want to review this section carefully. Privacy Shield does not replace or relieve companies from EU employment law obligations. Looking beyond the overseas transfer element, it’s critical to ensure that employee personal information has been collected and is processed in full compliance with applicable EU laws concerning employees.

10. Contracts for Onward Transfers.  US companies are sometimes unaware that all EU data controllers are required to have data processing contracts in place with any data processor, regardless of the processor’s location. Participation in Privacy Shield, by itself, is not enough. If a Privacy Shield-certified data controller wants to transfer the EU-origin personal information to another data controller, it can do so under a contract that requires the transferee to provide the same level of protection as Privacy Shield, except that the transferee can designate an independent recourse mechanism that is not one of the Privacy Shield-specific mechanisms. Companies will need to review their existing and new contracts carefully.

11. Dispute Resolution and Enforcement. We discuss this separately below.

12. Choice – Timing of Opt Out (Direct Marketing). This section focuses on opt-out consent for direct marketing. Companies should provide opt-out choices on all direct marketing communications. The guidance states that “an organization may use information for certain direct marketing purposes when it is impracticable to provide the individual with an opportunity to opt out before using the information, if the organization promptly gives the individual such opportunity at the same time (and upon request at any time) to decline (at no cost to the individual) to receive any further direct marketing communications and the organization complies with the individual’s wishes.” However, companies should keep in mind that the European standard for impracticability here may be tougher than we would expect in the US. In particular, US companies should consider EU requirements for direct marketing via e-mail or text, which typically requires advance consent unless the marketing is to an existing customer and is for goods or services that are similar to the ones previously purchased by the customer.

13. Travel Information. Common sense prevails with regard to travel data – when travel arrangements are being made for an EU employee or customer, the data transfer can take place outside of the Privacy Shield requirements if the customer has given “unambiguous consent” or if the transfer is necessary to fulfill contractual obligations to the customer (including the terms of frequent flyer programs).

14. Pharmaceutical and Medical Products. Pharma companies will want to review the fairly lengthy discussion of how Privacy Shield applies to clinical studies, regulatory compliance, adverse event monitoring and reporting, and other issues specific to the pharma industry. Privacy Shield is broadly helpful – and in some respects clearer than the pending GDPR.

15. Public Record and Publicly Available Information. Some, but not all, of the Principles apply to information obtained from public records or other public sources, subject to various caveats that make this section important to read in full.

16. Access Requests by Public Authorities. Privacy Shield companies have the option of publishing statistics concerning requests by US public authorities for access to EU personal information. However, publishing such statistics is not mandatory.

III. Recourse, Enforcement and Liability

A significant change in Privacy Shield from Safe Harbor is the addition of specific mechanisms for recourse and dispute resolution. One of the major perceived failings of Safe Harbor was that EEA citizens had no reasonable means to obtain relief or even to lodge a complaint. In order to satisfactorily self-certify, US companies will need to put processes in place to handle complaints.

Under Privacy Shield, at a minimum, such recourse mechanisms must include:

1. Independent Investigation and Resolution of Complaints: Readily available independent recourse mechanisms by which each individual’s complaints and disputes are investigated and expeditiously resolved at no cost to the individual … and damages awarded where the applicable law or private-sector initiatives provide;

2. Verification that You Do What You Say: Follow-up procedures for verifying that the attestations and assertions organizations make about their privacy practices are true and that privacy practices have been implemented as presented, and in particular, with regard to cases of non-compliance; and

3. You Must Fix the Problems: Obligations to remedy problems arising out of failure to comply with the Principles by organizations announcing their adherence to them and consequences for such organizations. Sanctions must be sufficiently rigorous to ensure compliance by organizations.

Prompt response to complaints is required and if a company uses an EU Data Protection Authority as a third party recourse mechanism and fails to comply with its advice within 25 days, the DPA may refer the matter to the FTC and the FTC has agreed to give priority consideration to all referrals of non-compliance from EU DPAs.

The verification requirement is more robust than under Safe Harbor. Companies may choose to either self-assess such verification or engage outside compliance reviews. Self-assessment includes certifying that its policies comply with the Principles and that it has procedures in place for training, disciplining misconduct and responding to complaints. Both outside compliance reviews and self-assessment must be conducted once a year.

Privacy Shield certifying organizations have responsibility for onward transfers and retains liability under the Principles if its third party processor violates the Principles, with some exceptions. Third party vendor management and contractual requirements for compliance with the Principles will be important components to manage the risk.

Dispute Resolution

There is ample ground for operational confusion under Privacy Shield, but none more so than with respect to dispute resolution. There are multiple methods available to data subjects (individuals) to lodge complaints, and companies subscribing to Privacy Shield must be prepared to respond through any of those. When companies certify under Privacy Shield, they need to choose an independent enforcement and dispute resolution mechanism. The choices are either:

  • Data Protection Authority Panels
  • Independent Recourse Mechanism

a. IndividualsIndividual data subjects may raise any concerns or complaints to the company itself, which is obligated to respond within 45 days. Individuals also have the option of working through their local DPA, which may in turn contact the company and/or the Department of Commerce to resolve the dispute.

b. Independent RecourseAs discussed above, the Privacy Shield requires that entities provide an independent recourse mechanism, either a private sector alternative dispute resolution provider (such as the American Arbitration Association, BBB, or TRUSTe) or a panel of European DPAs. NOTE THAT THE DPA PANEL IS MANDATORY IF YOU ARE APPLYING TO PRIVACY SHIELD TO PROCESS/TRANSFER HR DATA. For disputes involving HR data that are not resolved internally by the company (or any applicable trade union grievance procedures) to the satisfaction of the employee, the company must direct the employee to the DPA in the jurisdiction where the employee works.

c. Binding ArbitrationA Privacy Shield Panel will be composed of one or three independent arbitrators admitted to practice law in the US, with expertise in US and EU privacy law. Appeal to the Panel is open to individuals who have raised complaints with the organization, used the independent recourse mechanism, and/or sought relief through their DPA, but whose complaint is still fully or partially unresolved. The Panel can only impose equitable relief, such as access or correction. Arbitrations should be concluded within 90 days. Further, both parties may seek judicial review of the arbitral decision under the US Federal Arbitration Act.


In addition to the above discussion on the multiple avenues available to data subjects for complaints, there are other expanded types of enforcement under Privacy Shield. A certifying organization’s compliance may be directly or indirectly monitored by the US Department of Commerce, the FTC (or Department of Transportation), EU DPAs, and private sector independent recourse mechanisms or other privacy self-regulatory bodies.

Privacy Shield brings an expanded role to the Department of Commerce for monitoring and supervising compliance. If you have following Safe Harbor, one of the EU grounds for disapproval was the apparent lack of actual enforcement by US regulatory authorities against self-certifying organizations. The Department of Commerce has committed to a larger role and has greatly increased the size of the program staff.

Some of the new responsibilities of the Department of Commerce under Privacy Shield include:

  • Serving as a liaison between organizations and DPAs for Privacy Shield compliance issues;
  • Conducting searches for false claims by organizations that have never participated in the program and taking the aforementioned corrective action when such false claims are found.
  • Conducting ex officio investigations of those who withdraw from the program or fail to recertify to verify that such organizations are not making any false claims regarding their participation. In the event that it finds any false claims, it will first issue a warning, and then, if the matter is not resolved, refer the matter to the appropriate regulator for enforcement action; and
  • Conducting periodic ex officio compliance reviews which will include sending questionnaires to participating organizations to identify issues that may warrant further follow up action. In particular, such reviews will take place when the Department has received complaints about the organization’s compliance, the organization does not respond satisfactorily to its inquiries and information requests, or there is “credible” evidence that the organization does not comply with its commitments. Organizations will be required to provide a copy of the privacy provisions in their service provider contracts upon request. The Department of Commerce will consult with the appropriate DPAs when necessary;
  • Verifying self-certification requirements by evaluating, among other things, the organization’s privacy policy for the required elements and verifying the organization’s registration with a dispute resolution provider;

Private sector independent recourse mechanisms will have a duty to actively report organizations’ failures to comply with their rulings to the Department of Commerce. Upon receipt of such notification, the Department will remove the organization from the Privacy Shield List.

The above overview illustrates the complexity of Privacy Shield vs. Safe Harbor and the multiplication of authorities in charge of oversight, all of which is likely to result in greater regulatory scrutiny of and compliance costs for participating organizations. By way of contrast, when an organization relies on alternative transfer mechanisms such as the Standard Clauses, the regulatory oversight is performed by EU regulators against the EU company (as data exporter). Therefore, before settling on a transfer mechanism, organizations will want to consider the regulatory involvement and compliance costs associated with each option.

IV. Choosing Your Next Steps

Privacy Shield may not appeal to all US companies. Privacy Shield allows for a degree of flexibility in handling new data flows. However, that comes at the costs of fees, rigorous internal reviews and arguably much more onerous audits and enforcement than the two main alternatives, Binding Corporate Rules for intra-group transfers, and Standard Clauses for controller-to-controller or controller-to-processor transfers (regardless of corporate affiliation). Data transfers within corporate groups may be better addressed by Binding Corporate Rules that speak specifically to the groups’ global privacy practices – or even by the Standard Clauses, particularly for smaller corporations with only a few affiliates. Even outside corporate groups, the Standard Clauses may be adequate if the data flows are straightforward and unlikely to change much over time. An important point to note is that, in comparison to Safe Harbor, Privacy Shield requires more detailed company-to-company contracts when personal information is to be transferred – it’s no longer enough that both companies participate in the program. US companies should consider the potential operational benefits of Privacy Shield against its increased burdens.

It is important to consider timing. The Commerce Department Privacy Shield website will be “open for business” as of August 1. Lest you despair about the possibility of analyzing and updating those contracts that implicate the Accountability for Onward Transfer Principle in order to certify to Privacy Shield, Annex II has provided a bit of a “grace period” for what have been called early joiners.

The Privacy Principles apply immediately upon certification. Recognizing that the Principles will impact commercial relationships with third parties, organizations that certify to the Privacy Shield Framework in the first two months following the Framework’s effective date shall bring existing commercial relationships with third parties into conformity with the Accountability for Onward Transfer Principle as soon as possible, and in any event no later than nine months from the date upon which they certify to the Privacy Shield. During that interim period, where organizations transfer data to a third party, they shall (i) apply the Notice and Choice Principles, and (ii) where personal data is transferred to a third party acting as an agent, ascertain that the agent is obligated to provide at least the same level of protection as is required by the Principles.

If your company determines that Privacy Shield is the right choice, and you are diligent about the ground work required to accurately certify before that two-month window closes, you will be able to take advantage of the nine-month grace period to get those third party relationships into line.

Finally, US companies should stay alert to the legal challenges that the Standard Clauses are currently facing (again driven by concerns about mass surveillance), the possibility that EU regulators may start exacting further commitments when approving BCRs, and the very high likelihood that new legal challenges will be mounted against Privacy Shield shortly after it is implemented. Even if a company adopts Privacy Shield, or instead elects to stick with the Standard Clauses, it may want to get ready to switch if one or the other is struck down by the Court of Justice of the EU. Of course, if the Court of Justice strikes down both Privacy Shield and the Standard Clauses, it will be back to the drawing board for EU and US government negotiators.

Will Brexit Undermine U.K. Participation in the General Data Protection Regulation and the U.S./E.U. Privacy Shield?

The June 23, 2016 Brexit referendum outcome in the U.K. does create uncertainty about whether the U.K. will continue to follow EU data protection laws, including implementation of the E.U.’s new General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), scheduled to become effective on May 25, 2018. Furthermore, the recently negotiated new U.S./E.U. Privacy Shield, intended to replace the E.U.-invalidated Safe Harbor, faces an uncertain future in the U.K. as well if it is not an available framework for multinational businesses to do business in the U.K. For example, Microsoft stated in an open letter in May, 2016 to its 5000 U.K. employees before the Brexit vote that the U.K.’s EU membership was one of the factors that attracted Microsoft to make investments in the U.K., including in a new data center. One important future signal will be whether the U.K. opts to join the European Economic Area, or otherwise maintains significant trade with the EU, in which case the U.K. would necessarily need to comply with EU privacy regulations. If not, the U.K. would still need to develop its own data pgeneral data protectionrotection network. However, because at least two years must elapse before the U.K. can formally exit the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, and even that two year period does not commence until formal notice is given, both the GDPR (in May 2018) and the Privacy Shield are likely to be in place in the U.K. before any actual exit from the EU occurs. And many observers believe that any law that Britain adopts will likely be similar to the GDPR, since a non-member country’s data protection regime must be deemed “adequate” by the EU for businesses in that non-member country to exchange data and to do business within the EU. In short, nothing is going to change immediately, and because Brexit won’t likely be completed for years, the Privacy Shield could well be implemented in the U.K. for personal data transfers from the U.K. to the U.S. well before actual withdrawal is completed. It also may take years to negotiate and complete agreements, and enactment of alternative U.K. data privacy laws.

See our previous post regarding the text of the U.S./EU Privacy Shield

Article by Douglas Bonner of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice

Copyright © 2016 Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

Are UK-to-US employee data transfers sunk by ECJ’s torpedoing of Safe Harbor regime?

So there it is – in a tremendous boost for transatlantic relations, the European Court of Justice has decided that America is not to be trusted with the personal data of EU residents.  That is not exactly the way the decision is phrased, of course, which (so far as relevant to UK HR) is more like this:

Under the Eighth Principle of the UK’s Data Protection Act (and all or most of its EU cousins) the personal data of your employees can be transferred outside the EU only where the recipient country ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subject.

Until now an EU employer has been able to rely in this respect on a US company’s registration with the Safe Harbor (sic) scheme, a series of commitments designed to replicate the safeguards of EU law for that data.  As of this week, however, that reliance has been deemed misplaced – the ability and tendency of the US security agencies to access personal data held by US employers has been found to compromise those commitments beyond immediate repair.  In addition, one of the EU “model clauses” which can legitimise international data transfers requires the US recipient to confirm that it is aware of no legislation which could compel it to disclose that personal data to third parties without the employee’s consent.  New US laws enacted to boost homeland security mean that this can simply no longer be said.  Therefore Safe Harbor has been comprehensively blown up and can no longer be used as automatic air-cover for employee data transfers to the US.

This creates two immediate questions for HR in the UK.  First, what exposure do we have for past data transfers to the US on a basis which is now shown to be illegitimate?  Second, what do we do about such transfers starting now?

  • Don’t panic! To make any meaningful challenge out of this issue, the UK employee would need to show some loss or damage arising out of that transfer.  In other words, even if the data has been used in the US as the basis for a negative decision about him (dismissal or demotion or no bonus), the employee would need to show that that decision would have been more favourable to him if it had been taken by the same people based on the same data but physically within the EU.  Clearly a pretty tough gig.

Second, all this case does is remove the presumption that Safe Harbor registrants are safe destinations – it does not prove that they are not, either now or historically.  The question of adequacy of protection is assessed by reference to all the circumstances of the case, including the nature of the personal data sent, why it is sent to the US and what relevant codes of conduct and legislative protections exist there.

Last, Schedule 4 of the DPA disapplies the Eighth Principle where the data subject (the employee) has given his consent to the international transfer, or where the transfer is necessary for the entering or performance of the employment contract between the employee and the UK employer.  It will rarely be the case that neither of these exceptions applies.

If you have not previously had complaints from your UK employees that their personal data has been misused/lost/damaged in the US, nothing in this decision makes that particularly likely now.

  • Still don’t panic.

  • However, do be aware that this case is likely to lead to stricter precautions being required to ensure that what is sent to the US is genuinely only the bare minimum.

  • On its face, Schedule 4 should allow most reasonable international transfers of employee data anyway, pretty much regardless of what level of protection is offered in the destination country. However, there is a strong body of opinion, especially in Continental Europe, that reliance on this provision alone is unsafe and that it is still appropriate for the EU employer to take specific steps (most usually, some form of data export agreement with its US parent) to satisfy itself that a reasonable level of protection for that data exists. It may also wish to be seen to reconsider how far those HR decisions need to be made in the US at all, and whether EU employee data could be kept on an EU-based server if that is not currently the case.

  • To the extent that employment contracts do not already include it, amend them to include an express consent to the transfer of relevant personal data to the US (but do note another possible avenue of attack much mulled-over in Europe, i.e. that consent in an employment contract is not freely given because the job hangs upon it). Last, be seen to prune the UK employee data you do hold in the US back to what is strictly necessary and get rid of stuff which is no longer (if it ever was) relevant to the performance of the employment contract.

© Copyright 2015 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

ECJ Rules EU-US Safe Harbor Programme Is Invalid

The powers of EU data protection authorities are significantly strengthened by the decision, allowing them to suspend some or all personal data flows into the United States in certain circumstances.

In Maximillian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner (case C-362/14), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled[1] that the European Commission decision approving the Safe Harbor programme is invalid. Further, the ECJ ruled that EU data protection authorities do have powers to investigate complaints about the transfer of personal data outside Europe (whether by Safe Harbor-certified organisations or otherwise, but excluding countries deemed as having “adequate” data protection laws according to the EU). Finally, the ECJ ruled that data protection authorities can, where justified, suspend data transfers outside Europe until their investigations are completed.

Safe Harbor Programme

According to the European Commission, the United States is a country with “inadequate” data protection laws. The European Commission and the US Department of Commerce, therefore, agreed in 2000 to a self-certification programme for US organisations that receive personal data from Europe. Pursuant to the self-certification programme, a US organisation receiving personal data from Europe must certify that it adhered to certain standards of data processing comparable with EU data protection laws such that the EU citizens’ personal data was treated as adequately as if their personal data had remained in Europe. The Safe Harbor programme is operated by the US Department of Commerce and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Over 4,000 organisations have current self-certifications of adherence to Safe Harbor principles.[2]

The Schrems Case

Mr. Schrems complained in Irish legal proceedings that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner refused to investigate his complaint that the Safe Harbor programme failed to protect adequately personal data after its transfer to the US in light of revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) PRISM programme. The question of whether EU data protection authorities have the power to investigate complaints about the Safe Harbor programme was referred to the ECJ. Yves Bot, Advocate General at the ECJ, said in an opinion released on 23 September 2015 that the Safe Harbor programme  does not currently do enough to protect EU citizens’ personal data because such data was transferred to US authorities in the course of “mass and indiscriminate surveillance and interception of such data” from Safe Harbor-certified organisations. Mr. Bot was of the opinion that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, therefore, had the power to investigate complaints about Safe Harbor-certified organisations and, if there were “exceptional circumstances in which the suspension of specific data flows should be justified”, to suspend the data transfers pending the outcome of its investigation.

The ECJ followed Mr. Bot’s opinion and, further, declared that the European Commission’s decision to approve the Safe Harbor programme in 2000 was “invalid” on the basis that US laws fail to protect personal data transferred to US state authorities pursuant to derogations of “national security, public law or law enforcement requirements”. Furthermore, EU citizens do not have adequate rights of redress when their personal data protection rights are breached by US authorities.

The EU-US Data Protection Umbrella Agreement

In the last two years, the European Commission and various data protection working parties have discussed ways to improve the Safe Harbor programme and strengthen rights for EU citizens in cases where their personal data is transferred to the United States. Recently, the United States and European Union finalised a data protection umbrella agreement to provide minimum privacy protections for personal data transferred between EU and US authorities for law enforcement purposes. The umbrella agreement will provide certain protections to ensure that personal data is protected when exchanged between police and criminal justice authorities of the United States and the European Union. The umbrella agreement, however, does not apply to personal data shared with national security agencies.

The umbrella agreement also provides that EU citizens will have the right to seek judicial redress before US courts where US authorities deny access or rectification or unlawfully disclose their personal data. Currently, US citizens have the right to seek judicial redress in the European Union if their data—transferred for law enforcement purposes—is misused by EU law enforcement authorities. EU citizens, however, do not have corresponding rights of redress in the United States. A judicial redress bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives; adoption of the bill would allow the United States and European Union to finalise the umbrella agreement.

Key Findings of the ECJ Decision

The key findings of the ECJ decision are as follows (quotes indicate excerpts from the ruling itself):

“The guarantee of independence of national supervisory authorities is intended to ensure the effectiveness and reliability of the monitoring of compliance with the provisions concerning protection of individuals”.

The powers of supervisory authorities include “effective powers of intervention, such as that of imposing a temporary or definitive ban on processing of data, and the power to engage in legal proceedings”.

The Safe Harbor programme “cannot prevent persons whose personal data has been or could be transferred to a third country from lodging with the national supervisory authorities a claim. . .concerning the protection of their rights and freedoms”.

National courts can consider the validity of the Safe Harbor programme, but only the ECJ can declare that it is invalid.

Where the national data protection authorities find that complaints regarding the protection of personal data by Safe Harbor-certified companies are well-founded, they “must. . .be able to engage in legal proceedings”.

Organisations self-certified under the Safe Harbor programme are permitted to “disregard” the Safe Harbor principles to comply with US national security, public interest, or law enforcement requirements.

There is no provision in the Safe Harbor programme for protection for EU citizens against US authorities who gain access to their personal data transferred to the United States pursuant to the Safe Harbor programme. There is only a provision for commercial dispute resolution.

The EU Data Protection Directive[3] “requires derogations and limitations in relation to the protection of personal data to apply only in so far as is strictly necessary”, but there is no such requirement applicable in the United States following the transfer of personal data pursuant to the Safe Harbor programme.

The Safe Harbor programme “fails to comply with the requirements” to protect personal data to the “adequate” standard required by the EU Data Protection Directive and is “accordingly invalid”.

Other Options to Transfer Personal Data to the United States

Safe Harbor-certified organisations should note that there are other options to transfer personal data to the United States, including express consent and the use of Binding Corporate Rules or EU-approved model clause agreements. Organisations using Safe Harbor-certified vendors may wish to discuss these other options with their vendors. There is, however, a risk that this decision could affect these other options, as national security derogations are likely to override the protection of personal data regardless of how it is transferred, with the only exception being the specific and informed consent of an individual to the transfer of his or her personal data to governmental authorities for national security purposes.


The ECJ decision is likely to take the European Commission by surprise.

The powers of national data protection authorities are significantly strengthened by this decision. They could allow data protection authorities to suspend some or all personal data flows into the United States in serious circumstances and where there is a justifiable reason to do so. There is a risk that a data protection authority could order that the data transfers by an international organisation outside of Europe be suspended from that jurisdiction, whereas data transfers in other European jurisdictions are permitted. To mitigate this risk, the European Commission is entitled to issue EU-wide “adequacy decisions” for consistency purposes.

The European Commission has today announced that it intends to release guidance for Safe Harbor-certified companies within the next two weeks.

Article By Stephanie A. “Tess” BlairDr. Axel Spies & Pulina Whitaker of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Copyright © 2015 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.

[1] See Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) (6 October 2015)

[2] See Safe Harbor List.

[3] Directive 95/46/EC

EU Official Calls for Invalidation of EU–U.S. Safe Harbor Pact

A European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general, Yves Bot, has called for the European Union–U.S. Safe Harbor Agreement to be invalidated due to concerns over U.S. surveillance practices (press release here, opinion here). The ECJ has discretion to reject the recommendation, but such opinions are generally followed. A final decision on the issue is expected to be issued late this year or next year.

The issue arises out of the claims of an Austrian law student, Max Schrems, who challenged Facebook’s compliance with EU data privacy laws. (The case is Schrems v. (Irish) Data Protection Commissioner, ECJ C-362/14.) He claims that the Safe Harbor Framework fails to guarantee “adequate” protection of EU citizen data in light of the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance activities. Although the Irish data protection authority rejected his claim, he appealed and the case was referred to the ECJ.

The European Data Protection Directive prohibits data of EU citizens from being transferred to third countries unless the privacy protections of the third countries are deemed adequate to protect EU citizens’ data. The U.S. and EU signed the Safe Harbor Framework in 2000, which permits companies self-certify to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) annually that they abide by certain privacy principles when transferring data outside the EU. Companies must agree to provide clear data privacy and collection notices and offer opt-out mechanisms for EU consumers.

In 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began revealing large-scale interception and collection of data about U.S. and foreign citizens from companies and government sources around the globe. The revelations, which continue, have alarmed officials around the world, and already prompted the European Commission to urge more stringent oversight of data security mechanisms. The European Parliament voted in March 2014 to withdraw recognition from the Safe Harbor Framework. Apparently in response to the concern, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against over two dozen companies for failing to maintain Safe Harbor certifications while advertising compliance with the Framework, and in some cases claiming compliance without ever certifying in the first place. For more, see here (FTC urged to investigate companies), here (FTC settles with 13 companies in August 2015), and here (FTC settles with 14 companies in July 2014).

Advocate General Bot does not appear to have been mollified by the U.S. efforts, however. He determined that “the law and practice of the United States allow the large-scale collection of the personal data of citizens of the [EU,] which is transferred under the [S]afe [H]arbor scheme, without those citizens benefiting from effective judicial protection.” He concluded that this amounted to interference in violation of the right to privacy guaranteed under EU law, and that, notwithstanding the European Commission’s approval of the Safe Harbor Framework, EU member states have the authority to take measures to suspend data transfers between their countries and the U.S.

While the legal basis of that opinion may be questioned, and larger political realities regarding the ability to negotiate agreements between the EU and the U.S. are at play, if followed by the ECJ, this opinion would make it extremely difficult for companies to offer websites and services in the EU. This holds true even for many EU companies, including those that may have cloud infrastructures that store or process data in U.S. data centers. It could prompt a new round of negotiations by the U.S. and European Commission to address increased concerns in the EU about surveillance.

Congressional action already underway may help release some tension, with the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approving legislation that would give EU consumers a judicial right of action in the U.S. for violations of their privacy. This legislation was a key requirement of the EU in an agreement in principle that would allow the EU and U.S. to exchange data between law enforcement agencies during criminal and terrorism investigations.

Although the specific outcome of this case will not be known for months, the implications for many businesses are clear: confusion and continued change in the realms of privacy and data security, and uncertainty about the legal rules of the game. Increased fragmentation across the EU may result, with a concomitant need to keep abreast of varying requirements in more countries. Change and lack of harmonization is surely the new normal now.

© 2015 Keller and Heckman LLP