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 nmiller@foxwilliams.com 

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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 lmonro@foxwilliams.com

Privacy Shield, the new Safe Harbor

Nigel Miller
Nigel Miller

The EU has approved a new framework for transfers of personal data from the EU to the US, called the EU-US Privacy Shield. The Privacy Shield will replace the old ‘Safe Harbour’, which was ruled invalid in October 2015.

According to the EU, the EU-US Privacy Shield is fundamentally different from the old ‘Safe Harbor’. Like Safe Harbor, it is a self certification process. However, it imposes stronger obligations on companies handling the data to make sure that the rules are followed and enforced in practice.

Also, for the first time, the U.S. has given the EU written assurance that the access of public authorities for law enforcement and national security will be subject to clear limitations, safeguards and oversight mechanisms and has ruled out indiscriminate mass surveillance of European citizens’ data. Privacy Shield also provides some mechanisms for redress including a specific ombudsman.

Registration for Privacy Shield can begin 1 August 2016. US companies that wish to take advantage of Privacy Shield can benefit from a nine month grace period to get into compliance if they register for Privacy Shield before end September 2016. So this does not give much time to decide about this and take action.

Unfortunately, while Privacy Shield is a very welcome development, it does not mean that the whole vexed issue of transfers from the EU to the US has been resolved. The Article 29 Working Party – made of the European data protection regulators – have been critical of certain aspects of Privacy Shield, which raises the possibility that Privacy Shield will itself be subject to challenge at some point.

In addition, the EU Model Clauses – the main enabling solution for transfers of personal data from the EU – has also been referred to the EU court by the Irish data protection regulator and could possibly suffer the same fate as Safe Harbor.

Privacy Shield – progress, but not the legal certainty that businesses need.

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

EU and US agree in principle on Safe Harbor 2.0: “EU-US Privacy Shield”

Nigel Miller
Nigel Miller

A couple of days after expiry of the 31 January deadline, political agreement has been reached for a new arrangement for data transfers from the EU to the US, to be known as the “EU-US Privacy Shield” (aka Safe Harbor 2.0).

This follows the European Court of Justice decision in October 2015 in the Schrems case that the (old) Safe Harbour arrangement was invalid.

The new arrangement will provide stronger obligations on US companies to protect the personal data of Europeans and stronger monitoring and enforcement by the US FTC.

To facilitate the data flows, the US has been forced for the first time to give a commitment that access by US public authorities to the personal data of EU citizens will be subject to clear conditions, limitations and oversight.  The US has also given an assurance that it will not conduct mass or indiscriminate surveillance of Europeans.

US companies wishing to import personal data from Europe will need to commit to robust obligations on how personal data is processed and individual rights are guaranteed. The Department of Commerce will monitor that companies publish their commitments, which makes them enforceable under US law by the FTC.

It is very common for EU based subsidiaries of US groups to transfer HR data to the US parent.  Under the EU-US Privacy Shield any US company handling HR data from Europe will have to commit to comply with decisions by European DPAs.

In addition, Europeans who consider that their data has been misused will be able to raise any enquiry or complaint with a dedicated new Ombudsperson.

Comment

While it is remarkable to reach agreement on such matters within such a short space of time, underlining the political urgency, it’s not all done yet. The EU have to prepare a draft “adequacy decision” in the coming weeks. And the US have to put in place the new monitoring mechanisms and new Ombudsman. We continue to watch the space!

Meanwhile, bear in mind that Safe Harbor / the EU-US Privacy Shield is not the only solution to data transfers from the EU to the US and we continue to work with many companies to put in place other solutions, such as contracts based on model clauses or binding corporate rules.

 

At last, agreement on EU data protection reform

Nigel Miller
Nigel Miller

First proposed in January 2012, agreement has finally been reached between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council (the so-called ‘trilogue’) regarding a new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Current data protection rules are based on the 1995 Data Protection Directive, which predates mainstream internet, social media, big data, the cloud and other advances in technology which shape the way business operates today. It’s a classic case of legislation not keeping pace with technological development; its overhaul is well overdue.

A key benefit of the GDPR will be a single harmonised data protection law covering the whole of the EU. At present, each EU state has implemented its own version of the 1995 Directive and differences can apply in different member states.

The main highlights are summarized as follows:

A stricter regulatory environment

Reflecting ever increasing concerns about how personal data is used in the digital economy, and the continuous flow of news reports about data security breaches, the GDPR imposes a much higher burden of compliance on business.  Specific points include:

  • Fines – the maximum fine for breach of the GDPR is to be set at 4 per cent. of a company’s worldwide turnover. Currently the maximum fine under the DPA is £500,000. This alone should be enough to put the GDPR onto every Board’s agenda.
  • Easier access to data: individuals will have (and businesses will be required to provide) more information on how their data is processed and this information should be available in a clear and understandable way.
  • Consent – a new more expansive and specific definition of consent requires that it must be a “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of his or her wishes” by which the data subject, either “by a statement or by a clear affirmative action”, signifies agreement to personal data relating to them being processed.
  • Additional administrative burden – businesses must keep a record of any data processing activities under their responsibility (referred to as documentation) and must carry out data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) if they are processing date using new technologies and this is likely to result in a high risk to personal data.
  • Rules for innovation – the regulation requires that data protection safeguards are built into products and services from the earliest stage of development (privacy by design). Privacy-friendly techniques such as pseudonymisation are encouraged by the GDPR, to allow the benefit of big data innovation while protecting privacy.
  • Data protection officers – companies will be required to appoint data protection officers if they process sensitive data or collect information from consumers on a large scale. This will be an additional cost to many companies, although there is an exemption applicable to SMEs – see below.
  • Data processors – the GDPR treats data processors as data controller if they process personal data otherwise than in accordance with the data controller’s instructions and subjects data to processors fines for breaches of the GDPR; under current rules, in general, only the data controller is responsible for compliance.
  • Data breach notification – companies and organisations must notify the national supervisory authority (that’s the ICO in the UK) of serious data breaches as soon as possible so that users can take appropriate measures.

Individual rights

As well as the above, the new rules strengthen existing rights to include:

  • a right to data portability – the GDPR will make it easier for consumers to transfer personal data between service providers such as social network platforms and SaaS service providers;
  • right to be forgotten– EU citizens will have a stronger right to require that their data is deleted provided that there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it, which may require a business to rethink its current policy on data retention and deletion.

International aspects

  • Impact on non-EU businesses – the new rules will apply to companies who do not have a physical presence in the EU but offer services in the EU and collect data about EU data subjects. This will, for example, affect many US companies that provide services into the EU.
  • International data transfers – the position regarding transfers of data outside of the EU is unsatisfactory, highlighted by the recent invalidation of the Safe Harbor framework in respect of transfers to the US. However, it seems that the position under the GDPR will be largely unchanged from the current position.
  • One continent, one law – The GDPR will establish one single set of rules for the whole of the EU which will make it simpler and cheaper for companies to do business in the EU.
  • One-stop-shop – businesses will only have to deal with one single supervisory authority.

Exemptions for SMEs

Under the new rules, SMEs benefit from certain exemptions to reduce the burden of compliance:

  • No more notifications: the requirement to notify to / register with the ICO is to be scrapped.
  • Subject access: Where requests to access data are manifestly unfounded or excessive, SMEs will be able to charge a fee for providing access.
  • Data Protection Officers: SMEs are exempt from the obligation to appoint a data protection officer insofar as data processing is not their core business activity.
  • Impact Assessments: SMEs will have no obligation to carry out an impact assessment unless there is a high risk.

Next steps

Before the GDPR becomes law, the final text must be formally adopted by the European Parliament and Council, which is set to happen at the beginning of 2016.

The new rules will then become applicable across the EU two years thereafter.

For more information on how the GDPR will affect your business, please contact Nigel Miller (partner) or Sian Barr (associate) at Fox Williams LLP.