|While the EDPB does not provide absolute answers on how US entities looking to transfer EU personal data should proceed, the agencies provide their best thinking on what the path forward looks like.|
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On 24 July, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has addressed, in part, the implications of the recent decision that struck down the European Union-United States Privacy Shield, an agreement that had allowed US companies to transfer and process the personal data of EU citizens. The EDPB fully endorsed the view that the United States’ (US) surveillance regime, notably Section 702 of the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (FISA) and Executive Order (EO) 12333, makes most transfers to the US illegal except perhaps if entities holding and using the data take extra steps to protect it. The EDPB references another means that allows for transfers to possibly continue but that generally requires informed and explicit consent from each and every EU person involved. Finally, the EDPB does not address whether the European Commission (EC) and the US are able to execute a third agreement that would be legal under EU law.
The EDPB, which is comprised of the European Union’s (EU) data protection authorities (DPAs), has formally adopted a document spelling out its view on if data transfers under Privacy Shield to the US are still legal and how companies should proceed in using standard contractual clauses (SCCs) and Binding Corporate Rules (BCR), two alternative means of transferring data aside from Privacy Shield. The EDPB’s views suggest the DPAs and supervisory authorities (SA) in each EU nation are going to need to work on a case-by-case basis regarding the latter two means, for the EDPB stressed these are to be evaluated individually. Given recent criticism of how nations are funding and resourcing their DPAs, there may be capacity issues in managing this new work alongside existing enforcement and investigation matters. Moreover, the EDPB discusses use of the exceptions available in Article 49 of the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR), stressing that most such transfers are to be occasional.
In last week’s decision, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidated the European Commission’s adequacy decision on the EU-US Privacy Shield, thus throwing into question all transfers of personal data from the EU into the US that relied on this means. The CJEU was more circumspect in ruling on the use of standard contractual clauses (SCC), another way to legally transfer personal data out of the EU in compliance with the bloc’s law. The court seems to suggest there may be cases in which the use of SCCs may be inadequate given a country’s inadequate protections of the data of EU residents, especially with respect to national security and law enforcement surveillance. The EDPB issued a statement when the decision was made supporting the CJEU but has now adopted a more detailed explanation of its views on the implications of the decision for data controllers, data processors, other nations, EU DPAs and SAs.
In “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the judgment of the CJEU in Case C-311/18 -Data Protection Commissioner v Facebook Ireland Ltd and Maximillian Schrems,” the EDPB explains its current thinking on the decision, much of which is built on existing guidance and interpretation of the GDPR. The EDPB explained that the FAQ “aims at presenting answers to some frequently asked questions received by SAs and will be developed and complemented along with further analysis, as the EDPB continues to examine and assess the judgment of the CJEU.”
Here are notable excerpts:
- Is there any grace period during which I can keep on transferring data to the U.S. without assessing my legal basis for the transfer? No, the Court has invalidated the Privacy Shield Decision without maintaining its effects, because the U.S. law assessed by the Court does not provide an essentially equivalent level of protection to the EU. This assessment has to be taken into account for any transfer to the U.S.
- I was transferring data to a U.S. data importer adherent to the Privacy Shield, what should I do now? Transfers on the basis of this legal framework are illegal. Should you wish to keep on transferring data to the U.S., you would need to check whether you can do so under the conditions laid down below.
- I am using SCCs with a data importer in the U.S., what should I do? The Court found that U.S. law (i.e., Section 702 FISA and EO 12333) does not ensure an essentially equivalent level of protection. Whether or not you can transfer personal data on the basis of SCCs will depend on the result of your assessment, taking into account the circumstances of the transfers, and supplementary measures you could put in place. The supplementary measures along with SCCs, following a case-by-case analysis of the circumstances surrounding the transfer, would have to ensure that U.S. law does not impinge on the adequate level of protection they guarantee. If you come to the conclusion that, taking into account the circumstances of the transfer and possible supplementary measures, appropriate safeguards would not be ensured, you are required to suspend or end the transfer of personal data. However, if you are intending to keep transferring data despite this conclusion, you must notify your competent SA.
- I am using Binding Corporate Rules (“BCRs”) with an entity in the U.S., what should I do? Given the judgment of the Court, which invalidated the Privacy Shield because of the degree of interference created by the law of the U.S. with the fundamental rights of persons whose data are transferred to that third country, and the fact that the Privacy Shield was also designed to bring guarantees to data transferred with other tools such as BCRs, the Court’s assessment applies as well in the context of BCRs, since U.S. law will also have primacy over this tool.
- Whether or not you can transfer personal data on the basis of BCRs will depend on the result of your assessment, taking into account the circumstances of the transfers, and supplementary measures you could put in place. These supplementary measures along with BCRs, following a case-by-case analysis of the circumstances surrounding the transfer, would have to ensure that U.S. law does not impinge on the adequate level of protection they guarantee. If you come to the conclusion that, taking into account the circumstances of the transfer and possible supplementary measures, appropriate safeguards would not be ensured, you are required to suspend or end the transfer of personal data. However if you are intending to keep transferring data despite this conclusion, you must notify your competent SA.
- Can I rely on one of the derogations of Article 49 GDPR to transfer data to the U.S.? It is still possible to transfer data from the EEA to the U.S. on the basis of derogations foreseen in Article 49 GDPR provided the conditions set forth in this Article apply. The EDPB refers to its guidelines on this provision. In particular, it should be recalled that when transfers are based on the consent of the data subject, it should be:
- specific for the particular data transfer or set of transfers (meaning that the data exporter must make sure to obtain specific consent before the transfer is put in place even if this occurs after the collection of the data has been made),and
- informed, particularly as to the possible risks of the transfer (meaning the data subject should also informed of the specific risks resulting from the fact that their data will be transferred to a country that does not provide adequate protection and that no adequate safeguards aimed at providing protection for the data are being implemented).
- With regard to transfers necessary for the performance of a contract between the data subject and the controller, it should be borne in mind that personal data may only be transferred when the transfer is occasional. It would have to be established on a case-by-case basis whether data transfers would be determined as “occasional” or “non-occasional”. In any case, this derogation can only be relied upon when the transfer is objectively necessary for the performance of the contract.
- In relation to transfers necessary for important reasons of public interest(which must be recognized in EU or Member States’ law), the EDPB recalls that the essential requirement for the applicability of this derogation is the finding of an important public interest and not the nature of the organisation, and that although this derogation is not limited to data transfers that are “occasional”, this does not mean that data transfers on the basis of the important public interest derogation can take place on a large scale and in a systematic manner. Rather, the general principle needs to be respected according to which the derogations as set out in Article 49 GDPR should not become “the rule” in practice, but need to be restricted to specific situations and each data exporter needs to ensure that the transfer meets the strict necessity test.
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