Standard Contractual Clauses survive (for now) – Advocate General issues opinion in Schrems II

Ben Nolan
Ben Nolan

The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) has recommended that the court uphold the validity of the controller-to-processor Standard Contractual Clauses in the case of Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook Ireland Limited (commonly referred to as Schrems II).

Background and facts

The case concerns the Austrian privacy activist, Max Schrems, and the transfer of his personal data by Facebook from Ireland to the US. In an earlier decision involving Schrems and Facebook, the ECJ invalidated the EU-US “Safe Harbor” transfer mechanism (which then led to the EU-US “Privacy Shield” framework being implemented as a replacement for the Safe Harbor scheme).

At a very high level, Schrems’ complaint in the present case is that Facebook should not be allowed to rely upon the Standard Contractual Clauses to transfer his personal data to the US since these do not adequately protect his personal data once transferred due to the wide-reaching surveillance powers provided to US governmental organisations.

Although the case relates specifically to transfers by Facebook to the US, one potential outcome of the case was that the Standard Contractual Clauses would be invalidated. This would have broad implications for a large number of businesses which currently rely upon Standard Contractual Clauses as a convenient mechanism to transfer personal data outside of the European Economic Area.

Advocate General’s Opinion

Given the opinion of the Advocate General, which is not binding on the ECJ but which is followed in around 80% of cases, it seems unlikely that such an outcome will materialise.

The key points to note from the Advocate General’s opinion are as follows:

  • The decision of the ECJ should not result in the Standard Contractual Clauses being invalidated. These are designed to provide protection to the transferred data through contractual means, irrespective of the law in the country of the data importer.
  • It is for the controller (the data exporter) to assess on a case-by-case basis whether the Standard Contractual Clauses can be or are being implemented properly in practice (including by reference to the law of the country of the importing party). If not, the transfers must be prohibited or suspended by the controller.
  • Where it appears that the Standard Contractual Clauses are not being complied with, supervisory authorities (such as (in the UK) the ICO) are required to take measures to remedy this, for example, by ordering suspension of the transfer.
  • The ECJ should not rule on the validity of the EU-US Privacy Shield framework as part of its decision (although the Advocate General does discuss this at length in his opinion and casts doubt on its validity as a transfer mechanism).

Other points

It is to be expected that the EU Commission will issue updated controller-to-processor Standard Contractual Clauses in the not-too-distant future. The general consensus is that they are outdated and in need of a refresh to reflect the requirements of the GDPR.


The Advocate General’s opinion will come as welcome news to the numerous businesses which currently rely upon Standard Contractual Clauses. The opinion does highlight, however, that businesses should in practice be reviewing compliance with such clauses and not simply treating the implementation of the contracts as a tick-box exercise.

The above is of course subject to change based on the final decision of the ECJ in this case (expected early 2020). We will be keeping our eyes on this and will update you once we are in a position to do so.


Ben Nolan is a Solicitor Admitted in Scotland, in the commerce & technology team at City law firm Fox Williams LLP and can be contacted at

Implications of a No Deal Brexit on Data Protection

Whereas some impacts of a no deal Brexit have been well documented in the press, such as the potential shortage of medical supplies, issues around data protection have received less attention. Notwithstanding this, the consequences of a no deal Brexit could impose significant regulatory hurdles for many UK businesses and it would be advisable for businesses to prepare accordingly prior to Brexit taking place.

In this article, we discuss the data protection challenges posed by a no deal Brexit and detail some of the solutions which businesses should consider implementing in order to overcome these challenges.

Legal Framework

Following a no deal Brexit, UK laws concerning data protection, including the Data Protection Act 2018, would continue to apply and the GDPR would become incorporated into UK law – this is referred to as the UK GDPR. As such, UK organisations will essentially be required to comply with the same obligations which they should have been adhering to since the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018.


One of the key causes for concern in the event of a no deal Brexit is the impact this will have on data transfers between the UK and the European Economic Area (“EEA”). As things currently stand, data can be transferred freely between organisations in the UK and those elsewhere in the EEA. However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, such transfers would become subject to restrictions, at least insofar as these relate to transfers from the EEA to the UK.

In respect of data transfers from the UK to the EEA, the British government has said that these will not be restricted, meaning that no additional steps would need be taken to continue to transfer data from the UK to other entities in the EEA.

In terms of transfers of data from the EEA to the UK, the rules as to data transfers as set out in the GDPR would apply following a no deal Brexit. Once Britain leaves the EU, it will technically become a third country for the purposes of the GDPR and therefore organisations based in the EEA which are seeking to transfer data to entities in the UK would need to have in place a lawful mechanism for doing so.

The most seamless way to transfer to a recipient in a third country under the GDPR is where an “adequacy decision” has been made by the EU Commission in respect of that country. Where this is the case, personal data can be transferred freely to such countries without relying upon other legal mechanisms. It had been hoped by the UK government that an adequacy decision in relation to the UK would be in place immediately following Brexit. However, the EU Commission has insisted that it will not start the (often lengthy) adequacy decision process in respect of the UK until such time as it has formally left the EU.

The effect of this is that transfers from the EEA to the UK will need to be based on other lawful mechanisms set out in the GDPR from the date a no deal Brexit takes place. In the vast majority of cases, the most appropriate lawful mechanism for such transfers will be for the parties to enter into EU approved “standard contractual clauses” (“SCCs”). There are currently two sets of SCCs which have been approved by the EU Commission – these regulate transfers from:

  1. an EEA controller to a non-EEA controller; and
  2. an EEA controller to a non-EEA processor.

One legal grey area that has emerged is in relation to transfers from an EEA processor to a UK controller following a no deal Brexit. There are no SCCs which would regulate such transfers and often there will be no other suitable lawful mechanism for these types of transfer. It is expected (or perhaps hoped) by the UK government that the European Data Protection Board would issue guidance on this in the event of a no deal Brexit.

An alternative to SCCs which group companies with a UK presence may consider is to implement Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs). However, BCRs are subject to approval from the relevant supervisory authority and it will, therefore, prove time consuming to put such documentation in place.

Finally, UK organisations which currently rely on the EU-US Privacy Shield to transfer personal data to organisations in the US should be aware that this will no longer serve as a valid transfer mechanism in the event of a no deal Brexit unless the recipient US organisation has updated its public commitment to comply with the Privacy Shield to include the UK.

Procedural requirements

Notwithstanding the fact that the UK will have left the EU, many UK organisations will continue to be caught by the EU GDPR due to the extra-territorial scope of the GDPR. Where this is the case, organisations will have to consider whether or not they are required to appoint an EU representative pursuant to Article 27 of the GDPR.

On the flipside, the UK government has indicated that a similar requirement will apply to non-UK entities which are bound to comply with the UK’s data protection regime following Brexit, meaning many EU organisations carrying out activities in the UK could be caught.

In addition to the above, UK organisations which have any branches or establishments in the EU or are otherwise caught by the extra-territorial provisions of the GDPR and will be carrying out cross-border processing in the EEA following Brexit may be required to update their lead supervisory authority following Brexit.

Updates to documentation

At present, many organisations have drafted their GDPR compliance documentation from the perspective of the UK being a member the EU. Businesses should review their GDPR compliance documentation to ensure that these references are updated accordingly. In particular, it would be prudent to review:

  • Privacy notices – to ensure that the position in respect of international transfers is correctly stated; and
  • Contracts with third parties – to ascertain whether these contain any restrictions on transfers outside the EEA.


As can be seen from the above, the implications of the UK leaving the EU without a deal will have serious data protection consequences not only for UK organisations, but also for EU organisations which transfer or process personal data to or in the UK. Businesses should be aware of the additional compliance steps which they may need to overcome following the UK’s exit from the EU without a deal and begin preparations for this as soon as possible.

Please contact us if you need any assistance preparing for Brexit.


Ben Nolan is a Solicitor, Admitted in Scotland in the commerce & technology team at City law firm Fox Williams LLP and can be contacted at

No-deal Brexit – the effect on data flows

Nigel Miller
Nigel Miller

Following the overwhelming rejection of Theresa May’s Brexit deal on 15 January 2019, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit continues to be a real risk and many businesses are looking at what they need to do to prepare for this.

A key consideration is to ensure that data flows with group companies, partners and vendors can be legally maintained. In this connection, if the UK does exit Europe without a transitional arrangement, what will be the position in relation to data flows to and from the UK?

What does the GDPR say?

The GDPR prohibits transfers of personal data from the European Economic Area (the EU plus Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) (“EEA”) to a country outside the EEA (referred to in the GDPR as a “third country”) unless:

  • that third country has been deemed “adequate” by a European Commission adequacy decision (for example, Switzerland has adequacy status); or
  • one of a number of legal safeguards has been put in place beforehand. For most EU businesses transferring personal data to third countries which do not have “adequacy” status, the most convenient legal safeguard used is the standard contractual clauses (or “SCCs”) which is a set out standard data protection clauses prescribed by the EU and entered into between the data transferor (in the EEA) and the data recipient (in the relevant third country).

Will the GDPR still apply?

The GDPR is here to stay post-Brexit regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal. This is because, on the day the UK leaves the EU, most of the EU law (including the GDPR) which applied prior to the UK leaving the EU will be converted into UK law. In addition, the new Data Protection Act 2018 (“DPA 2018”), which supplements the GDPR, will continue to apply in the UK regardless of the outcome.

What about transfers of data from UK to EEA?

When the UK leaves the EU, the UK will be become a “third country”. The UK government has stated that, post-Brexit, UK businesses will continue to be able to send personal data from the UK to the EEA. Having said that, it has also said that the “UK would keep this under review”. Therefore, unless otherwise indicated by the UK government in future, the continued free flow of personal data from UK business to the EEA will continue.

What about transfers of data from EEA to UK?

The position is not the same in respect of data transferred from the EEA to the UK.

While the UK government has indicated its intentions to begin discussions on an adequacy decision for the UK, the European Commission has not yet given a timetable for this and have stated that a decision on adequacy cannot be taken until the UK is a third country. In any event, such decisions typically take many years to conclude. Therefore, for the time being, EU organisations will need to implement one of the appropriate legal safeguards (the SCCs usually being the most convenient option) in order to continue to transfer personal data to businesses in the UK.

What about transfers of data from UK to other territories?

In relation to transfers from the UK to other territories, the EU’s existing decisions on adequacy and SCCs that were in place on Brexit day can continue to be used after Brexit to ensure the free flow of data. Longer term, these adequacy decisions and SCCs will fall under the responsibility of and will be reviewed by the UK ICO rather than the European Data Protection Board.

Other issues to consider

Aside from the issue of international data transfers, there are some other issues to consider upon the UK exiting EU:

  • If you market to EU consumers, or you monitor the behaviour of individuals located in the EU, you will need to comply with both the UK data protection regime and the EU regime after the UK exits the EU, due to the extra-territorial reach of the GDPR. This carries with it the potential for regulatory actions including fines from both EEA authorities and the ICO, in the event of a data breach or infringement of data laws.
  • The GDPR requires a controller or processor not established in the EEA to designate a “representative” within the EEA in certain circumstances where they are processing the personal data of data subjects who are in the EEA. This is not a straightforward matter; the “representative” is a separate role to a data protection officer and may assume some direct compliance responsibility.
  • Likewise, controllers that are based outside the EU but that target UK customers (and are therefore subject to the UK GDPR) will be required to appoint a UK representative.
  • As well as dealing with the UK ICO, you may have to deal with European supervisory authorities in every EEA and EU state where individuals are affected. You may no longer be able to have a “lead authority” and benefit from the One-Stop-Shop. The One-Stop-Shop means you can deal with a single European supervisory authority rather than every supervisory authority in every EEA and EU state where individuals are affected.
  • Privacy notices may need to be updated in relation to international transfers and the appointment of a representative.


We are advising a number of clients on preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Contact us to explore how we can assist you.

Nigel Miller is a partner in the commerce & technology team at City law firm Fox Williams LLP and can be contacted at 

GDPR’s territorial reach: how far does it go?

Arjum MajumdarInternational businesses headquartered outside the EU but doing business in the EU need to know if EU data protection laws apply to them in order to avoid compliance problems and the possibility of significant fines.

The starting point is the territorial scope of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). Virtually all European businesses will fall within the scope of the GDPR. However, the question as to whether the GDPR applies to an organisation outside the EU is not always straightforward.

On 23 November 2018, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) – an independent European body that is composed of representatives of national data protection authorities – published guidelines to help shed some light on the GDPR’s territorial scope.

The guidelines were open for public consultation until 18 January 2019 and so they are not the final version. Therefore, the existing version of the guidelines should be applied in the meantime, albeit with a degree of caution, to provide some insight as to what sort of factors international businesses should be considering when determining the extent to which the GDPR applies to them.

In this article, we discuss the EDPB’s territorial scope guidelines and highlight key points.

Determining the territorial scope of the GDPR

The GDPR applies to the processing of personal data in the context of the activities of an establishment of an organisation in the EU, regardless of whether the processing takes place in the EU or not.

This is the “establishment test”.

However, the GDPR also applies to the processing of personal data of people who are in the EU by an organisation not established in the EU, where the processing activities are related to either:

  • the offering of goods or services (free or charged) to those persons in the EU (we shall refer to this as the “targeting test”); or
  • the monitoring of their behaviour where their behaviour takes place in the EU (and we shall refer to this as the “monitoring test”).

Therefore, in order for the GDPR to apply to your business, either the establishment test, targeting test or monitoring test would need to be satisfied.

The establishment test

The establishment test is essentially split into two sub-tests:

Establishment: The GDPR does not define “establishment”. However the Recitals, together with EU case law, clarify that an establishment implies “real” and “effective” activity – even a minimal one – exercised through “stable arrangements”.

The threshold for “stable arrangement” can be quite low, particularly in the context of online services (although this does not at all mean that mere access to a website in the EU constitutes establishment). In some circumstances, the presence of a single employee or agent in the EU may be sufficient where that agent or employee acts with a sufficient degree of stability.

Context of activities: To satisfy this test, there must be an inextricable link between the activities of the EU establishment and the processing of data carried out by the non-EU counterpart. If there is an inextricable link, then the GDPR will apply to that processing by the non-EU entity, whether or not the EU establishment plays a role in the data processing.

Therefore, non-EU organisations should assess each of their data processing activities and determine whether there are any potential links between the processing activity and the activities of any presence of the organisation in the EU.

If the above two tests are satisfied, then the GDPR will apply. This is regardless of whether the processing takes place in the EU or not.  Moreover, the residence or geographical location of the individual (whose data is being processed) is irrelevant.

The targeting test

An organisation with no establishment in the EU may still be caught by the GDPR if it meets the targeting test.

An organisation could be directly subject to the GDPR if it processes the personal data of individuals who are in the EU, where the processing activities are related to the offering of goods or services to those individuals.

The Recitals to the GDPR state that the “mere accessibility” of the business’ website, of an email address or other contact details or the use of a generally-used language in the country in which the business is domiciled would be “insufficient” in and of itself to conclude that the business is offering services to individuals in the EU.

The EDPB guidelines list a number of factors to take into consideration when determining whether goods or services are offered to individuals in the EU. These include the following activities (via the internet or otherwise):

  • the designation (or “singling out”) of the EU or at least one Member State of the EU by name;
  • launching marketing and advertising campaigns directed at an EU country audience;
  • paying a search engine operator for an internet referencing service to facilitate access to its site by people in the EU;
  • the international nature of the activity at issue;
  • the mention of an international clientele composed of clients domiciled in various EU Member States; and
  • the use of different languages or currencies.

Each activity on its own may not amount to a clear indication that the business offers goods or services to individuals in the EU. However, each factor should be taken into account to determine whether the business’ activities constitute the offer of services to individuals in the EU.

The monitoring test

An organisation outside the EU may also be caught by the GDPR if it is monitoring individuals’ behaviour where their behaviour takes place in the EU.

The Recitals state that in order to determine whether a processing activity can be considered to monitor the behaviour of individuals, it should be ascertained whether the individuals are tracked on the internet. Tracking on the internet includes “potential subsequent use of personal data processing techniques which consist of profiling a natural person, particularly in order to take decisions concerning her or him or for analysing or predicting her or his personal preferences, behaviours and attitudes”.

The EDPB guidelines also say that while the Recital exclusively relates to the monitoring of behaviour through the tracking of a person on the internet, it considers that tracking through other types of network or technology should also be taken into account, for example through wearable and other smart devices.

The guidelines suggest that the use of the word “monitoring” implies that the business has a specific purpose in mind for the collection and subsequent reuse of the relevant data about an individual’s behaviour within the EU. The EDPB does not consider, on the other hand, that any online collection or analysis of personal data of individuals in the EU would automatically count as “monitoring”. It is instead necessary to consider the business’ purpose for processing the data and, in particular, the subsequent behavioural analysis or profiling techniques involving that data. The guidelines also set out a non-exhaustive list of the sort of activities which would constitute monitoring which includes behavioural advertising, online tracking through the use of cookies, CCTV, market surveys, geo-localisation activities and other tracking techniques.

Therefore, international businesses should review their website tracking activity and uses of automated analytical tools (such as cookies to track website usage). It is possible that these activities fall within the scope of the GDPR to the extent that the information collected is capable of identifying individuals.

What if the targeting test or monitoring test is satisfied?

The business would be required to designate an EU representative in accordance with the requirements of the GDPR. This person or company would act as the main contact for any questions and concerns regarding data protection in the EU. The appointment of an EU representative does not have the effect of creating an establishment and meeting the establishment test.

Controller or processor

The GDPR draws a distinction between a data controller – which determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data (that is, the “how” and “why” personal data is processed) – and a data processor which processes personal data on behalf of, or on the instruction of, the data controller.

The EDPB guidelines emphasise the importance of this distinction, particularly when assessing the territorial scope of the GDPR. When determining whether the GDPR applies, the above three tests would need to be undertaken with each legal entity. A processor in the EU is not considered to be an establishment of a data controller based outside the EU. In such a scenario, the processor would be required to comply with its requirements under the GDPR (due to its establishment in the EU) but the controller would not.

The opposite also applies: if a controller is based in the EU and uses a processor outside the EU, the controller will be subject to the GDPR but the processor will not be. However, in this scenario, the controller would be required to ensure that its processor will meet certain requirements (including that there is a written agreement with GDPR-compliant clauses) which effectively means that the processor would be caught by the GDPR, albeit indirectly.


The EDPB draft guidelines do not contain all the answers and, for many businesses, the answer to the question “does the GDPR apply to us?” may still not be straightforward despite the guidelines.  It is possible that the guidelines’ shortcomings will be addressed in the final text. However, there is no guarantee that the final text will be any clearer.

In the meantime, international businesses need to adopt a systematic approach and review all of their data processing activities. In doing so, the above tests will then need to be applied to determine which of those activities might be caught by the GDPR. Where your business consists of a group of multiple entities, the tests should be applied to each entity within the group. Having done this, you can then move forward in determining which divisions of your business, if any, require a GDPR-compliance programme.


Arjun Majumdar is an associate in the commerce & technology team at City law firm Fox Williams LLP and can be contacted at 

ICO publishes blog on the EU-US Privacy Shield

Laura Monro
Laura Monro

Following the approval of the EU-US Privacy Shield on 1 August 2016, the ICO has published a blog summarising the “what, why, and how” of transferring data from the UK to the USA.

Whilst it remains the case that:

  1. the eighth data protection principle requires organisations that wish to transfer personal data outside of the EEA to ensure an adequate level of protection for data subjects; and
  2.  the European Commission has not deemed the USA as providing such adequate level of protection,

transfers to the USA are “adequate” if the organisation receiving the personal data is certified under the EU-US Privacy Shield.

The ICO makes it clear that any organisation still relying on the predecessor to the EU-US Privacy Shield, the Safe Harbor scheme, to transfer personal data from the UK to the USA needs to review their position. Seeking to continue to rely on the Safe Harbor scheme on its own will mean that an organisation is acting in breach of the Data Protection Act.

As a first step, the ICO recommends that any organisation looking to transfer data to the USA should ensure that the receiving organisation is certified under the EU-US Privacy Shield – if the receiving organisation is not certified you will need to rely on other ways to legally transfer the personal data to the USA.

At the present time, these include the model contractual clauses and binding corporate rules. However, the ICO is aware that such methods, whilst currently valid, are not free from uncertainty. This is not least because the model contractual clauses have been referred to the EU court by the Irish data protection regulator as to whether these clauses provide the adequate level of protection for international data transfers.

The ICO intends to issue guidance for organisations on international data transfers early in the Autumn – watch this space.

Laura Monro is an associate in the commerce & technology team at City law firm Fox Williams LLP and can be contacted at