Last week a Tribunal overturned a GDPR Enforcement Notice and a Monetary Penalty Notice issued to Clearview AI, an American facial recognition company. In Clearview AI Inc v The Information Commissioner  UKFTT 00819 (GRC), the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) ruled that the Information Commissioner had no jurisdiction to issue either notice, on the basis that the GDPR/UK GDPR did not apply to the personal data processing in issue.
Clearview is a US based company which describes itself as the “World’s Largest Facial Network”. Its online database contains 20 billion images of people’s faces and data scraped from publicly available information on the internet and social media platforms all over the world. It allows customers to upload an image of a person to its app; the person is then identified by the app checking against all the images in the Clearview database.
In May 2022 the ICO issued a Monetary Penalty Notice of £7,552,800 to Clearview for breaches of the GDPR including failing to use the information of people in the UK in a way that is fair and transparent. Although Clearview is a US company, the ICO ruled that the UK GDPR applied because of Article 3(2)(b) (territorial scope). It concluded that Clearview’s processing activities “are related to… the monitoring of [UK resident’s] behaviour as far as their behaviour takes place within the United Kingdom.”
The ICO also issued an Enforcement Notice ordering Clearview to stop obtaining and using the personal data of UK residents that is publicly available on the internet, and to delete the data of UK residents from its systems. (see our earlier blog for more detail on these notices.)
The First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) has now overturned the ICO’s enforcement and penalty notice against Clearview. It concluded that although Clearview did carry out data processing related to monitoring the behaviour of people in the UK (Article Art. 3(2)(b) of the UK GDPR), the ICO did not have jurisdiction to take enforcement action or issue a fine. Both the GDPR and UK GDPR provide that acts of foreign governments fall outside their scope; it is not for one government to seek to bind or control the activities of another sovereign state. However the Tribunal noted that the ICO could have taken action under the Law Enforcement Directive (Part 3 of the DPA 2018 in the UK), which specifically regulates the processing of personal data in relation to law enforcement.
While the Tribunal’s judgement in this case reflects the specific circumstances, some of its findings are of wider application:
The term “behaviour” (in Article Art. 3(2)(b)) means something about what a person does (e.g., location, relationship status, occupation, use of social media, habits) rather than just identifying or describing them (e.g., name, date of birth, height, hair colour).
The term “monitoring” not only comes up in Article 3(2)(b) but also in Article 35(3)(c) (when a DPIA is required). The Tribunal ruled that monitoring includes tracking a person at a fixed point in time as well as on a continuous or repeated basis.
In this case, Clearview was not monitoring UK residents directly as its processing was limited to creating and maintaining a database of facial images and biometric vectors. However, Clearview’s clients were using its services for monitoring purposes and therefore Clearview’s processing “related to” monitoring under Article 3(2)(b).
A provider of services like Clearview, may be considered a joint controller with its clients where both determine the purposes and means of processing. In this case, Clearview was a joint controller with its clients because it imposed restrictions on how clients could use the services (i.e., only for law enforcement and national security purposes) and determined the means of processing when matching query images against its facial recognition database.
The ruling is not a greenlight for data scraping; where publicly available data, usually from the internet, is collected and processed by companies often without the Data Subject’s knowledge. The Tribunal ruled that this was an activity to which the UK GDPR could apply. In its press release, reacting to the ruling, the ICO said:
“The ICO will take stock of today’s judgment and carefully consider next steps. It is important to note that this judgment does not remove the ICO’s ability to act against companies based internationally who process data of people in the UK, particularly businesses scraping data of people in the UK, and instead covers a specific exemption around foreign law enforcement.”
This is a significant ruling from the First Tier Tribunal which has implications for the extra territorial effect of the UK GDPR and the ICO powers to enforce it. It merits an appeal by the ICO to the Upper Tribunal. Whether this happens depends very much on the ICO’s appetite for a legal battle with a tech company with deep pockets.
Last month the Information Commissioner’s Office announced it was issuing another two Enforcement Notices against public authorities with extreme backlogs of FOI and EIR requests; the Ministry of Defence and the Environment Agency. From the published notices it is clear that both authorities had consistently failed to tackle their excessive delays, despite extensive discussions over many months with the ICO.
The ICO also issued Practice Recommendations, a lower level of sanction, to three authorities with a poor track record on FOI; Liverpool Council, Tower Hamlets Council and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. This brings the total of Enforcement Notices in the past year or so to six, and the number of Practice Recommendations to 12. As Warren Seddon, the ICO’s Director of FOI, proclaimed in his blog on the subject, both these figures exceed the numbers previously issued by the ICO in the entire 17 years since the FOI Act came into force.
From my point of view, as a frequent requestor, this is good news. For requestors, the ICO’s current activity represents a welcome tougher stance on FOI regulation adopted by Seddon and also the Commissioner, John Edwards, since the latter took over at the start of last year.
Under the previous Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, any strategic enforcement regarding FOI and failing authorities had dwindled to nothing. The experience of requestors was that the FOI system was beset by persistent lengthy delays, both from many authorities and also at the level of ICO complaints.
The ICO’s Decision Notices would frequently comment on obstruction and incompetence from certain public bodies, as I reported when I was a BBC journalist, but without the regulator then making any serious systematic attempt to change the culture and operations of these authorities. Under Denham the ICO had also ceased its previous policy of regularly and publicly revealing a list of authorities it was ‘monitoring’ due to their inadequate processing of FOI requests. Although this was in any case a weaker step than issuing formal enforcement notices and practice recommendations, in some cases it did have a positive effect. Working at the BBC at the time I saw how, when the BBC was put into monitoring by the ICO, it greatly annoyed the information rights section, who brought in extra resources and made sure the BBC was released from it at the first opportunity.
On the other hand, other public authorities with long-lasting deficiencies, such as the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police, were kept in ICO monitoring repeatedly, without improving significantly and without further, more effective action being taken against them.
The ICO’s FOI team has also made important progress in the past year in rectifying its own defects in processing complaints, speeding things up and tackling its backlog. This led to a rapid rush of decision notices. One result is that delay has been shifted further up the system, as the First-tier Tribunal has been struggling to cope with a concomitant increase in the number of decisions appealed. I understand that the proportion of decisions appealed did not change, although I don’t know if the balance between requestor appeals and authority appeals has altered.
Another consequence has been that decision notices now tend to be shorter than they used to be, especially those which support the stance of the public authority and thus require less interventionist argument from the ICO. Requestors may need to be reassured that the pressure on ICO staff for speedier decisions does not mean that finely balanced cases end up predominantly being decided on the side of the authority.
More generally I gather there is some concern within the ICO about its decisions under sections 35 and 36 of FOI, to do with policy formulation and free and frank advice, that some staff have got into a pattern of dismissing requestors’ arguments without properly considering the specific circumstances which may favour disclosure.
As part of its internal operational changes, a few months ago the ICO introduced a procedure for prioritisation amongst appeals and expediting selected ones. I have seen the evidence of this myself. A complaint I made in April was prioritised and allocated to a case worker within six weeks and then a decision notice served within another six weeks (although sadly my case was rejected). All done within three months.
On the other hand a much older appeal that I submitted to the ICO in May 2022 has extraordinarily still not even been allocated to a case worker 15 months later, from what I have been told. This is partly because it relates to the Cabinet Office, which accounts for a large proportion of the ICO’s oldest casework and has been allowed a longer period of time to work through old cases.
It is interesting to note that the ICO does not proactively tell complainants that their case has been prioritised, even when they have specifically argued it should be at the time of submitting their complaint. The ICO wants to avoid its staff getting sucked in to disputes about which appeals merit prioritisation. If you want to know whether your case has been prioritised, you have to ask explicitly, and then you will be told.
The ICO has not yet officially released any statistics about the impact of its new prioritisation policy. However I understand that in the first three months about 60 cases were prioritised and allocated to a case officer to investigate within a month or so. This is a smaller number than might have been expected.
Around 80 percent of these were prioritised in line with the criterion for the importance of the public interest involved in the issue. And about 60 percent of decisions to prioritise reflected the fact that the requestor was in a good position to disseminate further any information received, possibly as a journalist or campaigner.
In most of the early decision notices for prioritised complaints the ICO has backed the authority and ruled against disclosure. So if you are a requestor, the fact that the ICO has decided to prioritise your appeal does certainly not mean that it has reached a preliminary decision that you are right.
Martin Rosenbaum is the author of Freedom of Information: A practical guidebook. The book is aimed at requestors and provides thorough guidance on the workings of the law, how best to frame requests and how to challenge refusals. It will also be valuable to FOI officers and others who want a better understanding of the perspective of requestors. In the book Martin passes on the benefits of all the expertise and experience he acquired during 16 years as the leading specialist in BBC News in using FOI for journalism.
Data Protection law in the Middle East has seen some rapid developments recently. The UAE recently enacted a federal law to comprehensively regulate the processing of personal data in all seven emirates. This will sit alongside current data protection laws regulating businesses in the various financial districts such as the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020 and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Data Protection Regulations 2021. In addition there are several sector specific laws in the UAE which address personal privacy and data security. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar also now have comprehensive data protection laws.
These laws require a fundamental assessment of the way Middle East businesses handle personal data from collection through to storage, disclosure and destruction. With enhanced rights for individuals and substantial fines for non-compliance no business can afford to ignore the new requirements.
Act Now’s UAE Data Protection Officer Certificate has been developed following extensive discussions with our clients and partners in the UAE and builds on our experience of delivering training and consultancy in the region. The course focuses on the essential knowledge required by DPOs to successfully navigate the UAE data protection landscape. The course will also help DPOs to develop the skills required to do their job better. These include interpreting the data protection principles in a practical context, drafting privacy notices, undertaking DPIAs and reporting data breaches.
The course teaching style is based on four practical and engaging workshops covering theory alongside hands-on application using case studies that equip delegates with knowledge and skills that can be used immediately. Delegates will also have personal tutor support throughout the course and access to a comprehensive revised online resource lab.
Ibrahim Hasan, director of Act Now Training, said:
“I am really pleased to be launching this new UAE DPO certificate course. This is an exciting time for data protection law in the Middle East. Act Now is committed to contributing to the development of the DPO function in the region.”
If you would like to discuss your suitability for this course, please get in touch. It can also be delivered as an in house option.
In recent months, TikTok has been accused of aggressive data harvesting and poor security issues. A number of governments have now taken a view that the video sharing platform represents an unacceptable risk that enables Chinese government surveillance. In March, UK government ministers were banned from using the TikTok app on their work phones.The United States, Canada, Belgium and India have all adopted similar measures.
On 4th April 2023, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued a £12.7 million fine to TikTok for a number of breaches of the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR), including failing to use children’s personal data lawfully. This follows a Notice of Intent issued in September 2022.
Article 8(1) of the UK GDPR states the general rule that when a Data Controller is offering an “information society services” (e.g. social media apps and gaming sites) directly to a child, and it is relying on consent as its lawful basis for processing, only a child aged 13 or over is able provide their own consent. For a child under 13, the Data Controller must seek consent from whoever holds parental responsibility. Article 8(2) further states:
“The controller shall make reasonable efforts to verify in such cases that consent is given or authorised by the holder of parental responsibility over the child, taking into consideration available technology.”
In issuing the fine, the ICO said TikTok had failed to comply with Article 8 even though it ought to have been aware that under 13s were using its platform. It also failed to carry out adequate checks to identify and remove underage children from its platform. The ICO estimates up to 1.4 million UK children under 13 were allowed to use the platform in 2020, despite TikTok’s own rules not allowing children of that age to create an account.
The ICO investigation found that a concern was raised internally with some senior employees about children under 13 using the platform and not being removed. In the ICO’s view TikTok did not respond adequately. John Edwards, the Information Commissioner, said:
“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better. Our £12.7m fine reflects the serious impact their failures may have had. They did not do enough to check who was using their platform or take sufficient action to remove the underage children that were using their platform.”
In addition to Article 8 the ICO found that, between May 2018 and July 2020, TikTok breached the following provisions of the UK GDPR:
Article 13 and 14 (Privacy Notices) – Failing to provide proper information to people using the platform about how their data is collected, used, and shared in a way that is easy to understand. Without that information, users of the platform, in particular children, were unlikely to be able to make informed choices about whether and how to engage with it; and
Article 5(1)(a) (The First DP Principle) – Failing to ensure that the personal data belonging to its UK users was processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner.
Notice of Intent
It is noticeable that this fine is less than half the amount (£27 million) in the Notice of Intent. The ICO said that it had taken into consideration the representations from TikTok and decided not to pursue its provisional finding relating to the unlawful use of Special Category Data. Consequently this potential infringement was not included in the final amount of the fine.
We have been here before! In 2018 British Airways was issued with a Notice of Intent in the sum of £183 Million but the actual fine in July 2020 was for £20 million. Marriott International Inc was fined £18.4 million in 2020; much lower than the £99 million set out in the original notice. Some commentators have argued that the fact that fines are often substantially reduced (from the notice to the final amount) suggests the ICO’s methodology is flawed.
In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson said:
“While we disagree with the ICO’s decision, which relates to May 2018 to July 2020, we are pleased that the fine announced today has been reduced to under half the amount proposed last year. We will continue to review the decision and are considering next steps.”
We suspect TikTok will appeal the fine and put pressure on the ICO to think about whether it has the appetite for a costly appeal process. The ICO’s record in such cases is not great. In 2021 it fined the Cabinet Office £500,000 for disclosing postal addresses of the 2020 New Year Honours recipients. The Cabinet Office appealed against the amount of the fine arguing it was “wholly disproportionate”. A year later, the ICO agreed to a reduction to £50,000. Recently an appeal against the ICO’s fine of £1.35 million issued to Easylife Ltd was withdrawn, after the parties reached an agreement whereby the amount of the fine was reduced to £250,000.
The Children’s Code
Since the conclusion of the ICO’s investigation of TikTok, the regulator has published the Children’s Code. This is a statutory code of practice aimed at online services, such as apps, gaming platforms and web and social media sites, that are likely to be accessed by children. The code sets out 15 standards to ensure children have the best possible experience of online services. In September, whilst marking the Code’s anniversary, the ICO said:
“Organisations providing online services and products likely to be accessed by children must abide by the code or face tough sanctions. The ICO are currently looking into how over 50 different online services are conforming with the code, with four ongoing investigations. We have also audited nine organisations and are currently assessing their outcomes.”
With increasing concern about security and data handling practices across the tech sector (see the recent fines imposed by the Ireland’s Data Protection Commission on Meta) it is likely that more ICO regulatory action will follow.
This and other GDPR developments will be discussed in detail on our forthcoming GDPR Update workshop.
On 20th February 2023, the First-Tier (Information Rights) Tribunal (FTT) overturned an Enforcement Notice issued against Experian by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
This case relates to Experian’s marketing arm, Experian Marketing Services (EMS) which provides analytics services for direct mail marketing companies. It obtains personal data from three types of sources; publicly available sources, third parties and Experian’s credit reference agency (CRA) business. The company processes this personal data to build profiles about nearly every UK adult. An individual profile can contain over 400 data points. The company sells access to this data to marketing companies that wish to improve the targeting of their postal direct marketing communications.
The ICO issued an Enforcement Notice against Experian in April 2020, alleging several GDPR violations namely; Art. 5(1)(a) (Principle 1, Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency), Art. 6(1) (Lawfulness of processing) and Art. 14 (Information to be provided where personal data have not been obtained from the data subject).
Fair and Transparent Processing: Art 5(1)(a)
The ICO criticised Experian’s privacy notice for being unclear and for not emphasising the “surprising” aspects of Experian’s processing. It ordered Experian to:
Provide an up-front summary of Experian’s direct marketing processing.
Put “surprising” information (e.g. regarding profiling via data from multiple sources) on the first or second layer of the notice.
Use clearer and more concise language.
Disclose each source and use of data and explain how data is shared, providing examples.
The ICO also ordered Experian to stop using credit reference agency data (CRA data) for any purpose other than those requested by Data Subjects.
Lawful Processing: Arts. 5(1)(a) and 6(1)
All processing of personal data under the GDPR requires a legal basis. Experian processed all personal data held for marketing purposes on the basis of its legitimate interests, including personal data that was originally collected on the basis of consent. Before relying on legitimate interests, controllers must conduct a “legitimate interests assessment” to balance the risks of processing the risks. Experian had done this, but the ICO said the company had got the balance wrong. It ordered Experian to:
Delete all personal data that had been collected via consent and was subsequently being processed on the basis of Experian’s legitimate interests.
Stop processing personal data where an “objective” legitimate interests assessment revealed that the risks of the processing outweigh the benefits.
Review the GDPR compliance of all third parties providing Experian with personal data.
Stop processing any personal data that has not been collected in a GDPR-compliant way.
Transparency: Art. 14
Art. 14 GDPR requires controllers to provide notice to data subjects when obtaining personal data from a third-party or publicly available source. Experian did not do provide such notices relying on the exceptions in Art 14.
Where Experian had received personal data from third parties, it said that it did not need to provide a notice because “the data subject already has the information”. It noted that before a third party sent Experian personal data, the third party would provide Data Subjects with its own privacy notice. That privacy notice would contain links to Experian’s privacy notice. Where Experian had obtained personal data from a publicly available source, such as the electoral register, it claimed that to provide a notice would involve “disproportionate effort”.
The ICO did not agree that these exceptions applied to Experian, and ordered it to:
Send an Art. 14 notice to all Data Subjects whose personal data had been obtained from a third-party source or (with some exceptions) a publicly available source.
Stop processing personal data about Data Subjects who had not received an Art. 14 notice.
The FTT Decision
The FTT found that Experian committed only two GDPR violations:
Failing to provide an Art. 14 notice to people whose data had been obtained from publicly available sources.
Processing personal data on the basis of “legitimate interests” where that personal data had been originally obtained on the basis of “consent” (by the time of the hearing, Experian had stopped doing this).
The FTT said that the ICO’s Enforcement Notice should have given more weight to:
The costs of complying with the corrective measures.
The benefits of Experian’s processing.
The fact that Data Subjects would (supposedly) not want to receive an Art. 14 notice.
The FTT overturned most of the ICO’s corrective measures. The only new obligation on Experian is to send Art. 14 notices in future to some people whose data comes from publicly available sources.
FTT on Transparency
Experian had improved its privacy notice before the hearing, and the FTT was satisfied that it met the Art. 14 requirements. It agreed that Experian did not need to provide a notice to Data Subjects where it had received their personal data from a third party. The FTT said that “…the reasonable data subject will be familiar with hyperlinks and how to follow them”. People who wanted to know about Experian’s processing had the opportunity to learn about it via third-party privacy notices.
However, the FTT did not agree with Experian’s reliance on the “disproportionate effort” exception. In future, Experian will need to provide Art. 14 notices to some Data Subjects whose personal data comes from publicly available sources.
FTT on Risks of Processing
An ICO expert witness claimed that Experian’s use of CRA data presented a risk to Data Subjects. The witness later admitted he had misunderstood this risk. The FTT found that Experian’s use of CRA data actually decreased the risk of harm to Data Subjects. For example, Experian used CRA data to “screen out” data subjects with poor credit history from receiving marketing about low-interest credit cards. The FTT found that this helped increase the accuracy of marketing and was therefore beneficial. As such, the FTT found that the ICO had not properly accounted for the benefits of Experian’s processing of CRA data.
The ICO’s Planned Appeal
The FTT’s decision focuses heavily on whether Experian’s processing was likely to cause damage or distress to Data Subjects. Because the FTT found that the risk of damage was low, Experian could rely on exceptions that might not have applied to riskier processing.
The ICO has confirmed that it will appeal the decision. There are no details yet on their arguments but they may claim that the FTT took an excessively narrow interpretation of privacy harms.
This month the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has issued two fines and one Notice of Intent under GDPR.
The latest fine is three times more than that imposed on Easylife Ltd on 5th October. Yesterday, Interserve Group Ltd was fined £4.4 million for failing to keep personal information of its staff secure.
The ICO found that the Berkshire based construction company failed to put appropriate security measures in place to prevent a cyber-attack, which enabled hackers to access the personal data of up to 113,000 employees through a phishing email. The compromised data included personal information such as contact details, national insurance numbers, and bank account details, as well as special category data including ethnic origin, religion, details of any disabilities, sexual orientation, and health information.
The Phishing Email
In March 2020, an Interserve employee forwarded a phishing email, which was not quarantined or blocked by Interserve’s IT system, to another employee who opened it and downloaded its content. This resulted in the installation of malware onto the employee’s workstation.
The company’s anti-virus quarantined the malware and sent an alert, but Interserve failed to thoroughly investigate the suspicious activity. If they had done so, Interserve would have found that the attacker still had access to the company’s systems.
The attacker subsequently compromised 283 systems and 16 accounts, as well as uninstalling the company’s anti-virus solution. Personal data of up to 113,000 current and former employees was encrypted and rendered unavailable.
The ICO investigation found that Interserve failed to follow-up on the original alert of a suspicious activity, used outdated software systems and protocols, and had a lack of adequate staff training and insufficient risk assessments, which ultimately left them vulnerable to a cyber-attack. Consequently, Interserve had breached Article 5 and Article 32 of GDPR by failing to put appropriate technical and organisational measures in place to prevent the unauthorised access of people’s information.
Notice of Intent
Interestingly in this case the Notice of Intent (the pre cursor to the fine) was for also for £4.4million i.e. no reductions were made by the ICO despite Interserve’s representations. Compare this to the ICO’s treatment of two much bigger companies who also suffered cyber security breaches. In July 2018, British Airways was issued with a Notice of Intent in the sum of £183 Million but the actual fine was reduced to £20 million in July 2020. In November 2020 Marriott International Inc was fined £18.4 million, much lower than the £99 million set out in the original notice.
The Information Commissioner, John Edwards, has warned that companies are leaving themselves open to cyber-attack by ignoring crucial measures like updating software and training staff:
“The biggest cyber risk businesses face is not from hackers outside of their company, but from complacency within their company. If your business doesn’t regularly monitor for suspicious activity in its systems and fails to act on warnings, or doesn’t update software and fails to provide training to staff, you can expect a similar fine from my office.
Leaving the door open to cyber attackers is never acceptable, especially when dealing with people’s most sensitive information. This data breach had the potential to cause real harm to Interserve’s staff, as it left them vulnerable to the possibility of identity theft and financial fraud.”
We have been here before. On 10th March the ICO fined Tuckers Solicitors LLP £98,000 following a ransomware attack on the firm’s IT systems in August 2020. The attacker had encrypted 972,191 files, of which 24,712 related to court bundles. 60 of those were exfiltrated by the attacker and released on the dark web.
Organisations need to strengthen their defences and have plans in place; not just to prevent a cyber-attack but what to do when it does takes place. Here are our top tips:
Conduct a cyber security risk assessment and consider an external accreditation through Cyber Essentials.
Ensure your employees know the risks of malware/ransomware and follows good security practice. At the time of the cyber-attack, one of the two Interserve employees who received the phishing email had not undertaken data protection training. (Our GDPR Essentials e-learning solution is a very cost effective e learning solution which contains a specific module on keeping data safe.)
On 5th October, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued a GDPR Monetary Penalty Notice in the sum of £1,350,000 to Easylife Ltd. The catalogue retailer was found to have been using 145,400 customers personal data to predict their medical condition and then, without their consent, targeting them with health-related products.
This latest ICO fine is interesting but not because of the amount involved. There have been much higher fines. In October 2020, British Airways was fined £20 million for a cyber security breach which saw the personal and financial details of more than 400,000 customers being accessed by hackers. This, like most of the other ICO fines, involved a breach of the security provisions of GDPR. In the Easylife fine, the ICO focussed on the more interesting GDPR provisions (from a practitioner’s perspective) relating to legal basis, profiling and transparency.
The background to the fine is that a telemarketing company was being investigated by the ICO for promoting funeral plans during the pandemic. This led to the investigation into Easylife because the company was conducting marketing calls for Easylife. The investigation initially concerned potential contraventions of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), and that investigation raised concerns of potential contraventions of GDPR, which the Commissioner then investigated separately.
The ICO investigation found that when a customer purchased a product from Easylife’s Health Club catalogue, the company would make assumptions about their medical condition and then market health-related products to them without their consent. For example, if a person bought a jar opener or a dinner tray, Easylife would use that purchase data to assume that person has arthritis and then call them to market glucosamine joint patches.
Special Category Data and Profiling
Article 4( 4) of the GDPR defines profiling: “‘profiling’ means any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person’s performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements;”
Out of 122 products in Easylife’s Health Club catalogue, 80 were considered to be ‘trigger products’. Once these products were purchased by customers, Easlylife would target them with a health-related item. The ICO found that significant profiling of customers was taking place.
Easylife’s use of customer transactional data to infer that the customer probably had a particular health condition was Special Category Data. Article 6 and 9 of the GDPR provides that such data may not be processed unless a lawfulness condition can be found. The only relevant condition in the context of Easylife’s health campaign was explicit consent. Easylife did not collect consent to process Special Category Data, instead relying on legitimate interest (based on its privacy notice) under Article 6. As a result, it had no lawful basis to process the data in contravention of Article 6 and Article 9 of the GDPR.
John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said:
“Easylife was making assumptions about people’s medical condition based on their purchase history without their knowledge, and then peddled them a health product – that is not allowed.
The invisible use of people’s data meant that people could not understand how their data was being used and, ultimately, were not able to exercise their privacy and data protection rights. The lack of transparency, combined with the intrusive nature of the profiling, has resulted in a serious breach of people’s information rights.”
One other ICO monetary penalty notice has examined these issues in detail. In May 2022 Clearview AI was fined £7,552,800 following an investigation into its online database contains 20 billion images of people’s faces scraped from the internet.
As Jon Baines pointed out (thanks Jon!), on the Jiscmail bulletin board, a large chunk of the online programmatic advertising market also profiles people and infers Special Category Data in the same way as Easylife. This was highlighted in the ICO’s 2019 report. The ICO said in January last year that it was resuming its Adtech investigation, but there has been very little news since then.
GDPR was not the only cause of Easylife’s woes. It was also fined £130,000 under PECR for making 1,345,732 direct marketing calls to people registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
This case also shows the importance of organisations only using telephone marketing companies who understand and comply with GDPR and PECR. If not, the ICO enforcement spotlight will also fall on clients of such companies.
This and other GDPR developments will be discussed in detail on our forthcoming GDPR Update workshop.
In the Government’s response to the September 2021 consultation (“Data: A New Direction”) it said it intended “to create an ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly data protection regime that underpins the trustworthy use of data.” To achieve this, the new Bill proposes substantial amendments to existing UK data protection legislation; namely the UK GDPR, the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (“PECR”). There is no shiny new Data Protection Act 2022 or even a new colour for the UK GDPR! Perhaps a missed opportunity to showcase the benefits of Brexit!
In addition to reforming core data protection law, the Bill deals with certification of digital identity providers, electronic registers of births and deaths and information standards for data-sharing in the health and adult social care system. The notable DP provisions are set out below.
Amended Definition of Personal Data
Clause 1 of the Bill limits the scope of personal data to:
where the information is identifiable by the controller or processor by reasonable means at the time of the processing; or
where the controller or processor ought to know that another person will likely obtain the information as a result of the processing and the individual will likely be identifiable by that person by reasonable means at the time of the processing.
This proposed change would limit the assessment of identifiability of data to the controller or processor, and persons who are likely to receive the information, rather than anyone in the world. It could make it easier for organisations to achieve data anonymisation as they would no longer need to concern themselves with potential future identifiability, with the focus instead being on identifiability “at the time of the processing”. On the other hand, the change does not address the risk of indirect identification.
Vexatious Data Subject Requests
Article 12 of the UK GDPR allows controllers to refuse to comply with data subject rights requests (or charge a fee) when the requests are “manifestly unfounded” or “excessive”. Clause 7 of the Bill proposes to replace this with “vexatious” or “excessive”. Examples of vexatious requests given in the Bill are those requests intended to cause distress, not made in good faith, or that are an abuse of process. All these could easily fit into “manifestly unfounded” and so it is difficult to understand the need for change here.
Data Subject Complaints
Currently, the UK GDPR allows a data subject to complain to the Information Commissioner, but nothing expressly deals with whether or how they can complain to a controller. Clause 39 of the Bill would make provision for this and require the controller to acknowledge receipt of such a complaint within 30 days and respond substantively “without undue delay”. However, under clause 40, if a data subject has not made a complaint to the controller, the ICO is entitled not to accept the complaint.
Much was made about “privacy management programmes” in the Government’s June announcement. These are not expressly mentioned in the Bill but most of the proposals that were to have fallen under that banner are still there (see below).
Senior Responsible Individuals
As announced in June, the obligation for some controllers and processors to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) is proposed to be removed. However, public bodies and those who carry out processing likely to result in a “high risk” to individuals, are required (by clause 14) to designate a senior manager as a “Senior Responsible Individual”. Just like the DPO, the SRI must be adequately resourced and cannot be dismissed for performing their tasks under the role. The requirement for them to be a senior manager (rather than just reporting to senior management, as current DPOs must) will cause problems for those organisations currently using outsourced DPO services.
ROPAs and DPIAs
The requirement for Records of Processing Activities (ROPAs) will also go. Clause 15 of the Bill proposes to replace it with a leaner “Record of Processing of Personal Data”. Clause 17 will replace Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs) with leaner and less prescriptive Assessments of High Risk Processing. Clause 18 ensures that controllers are no longer required, under Article 36 of the UK GDPR, to consult the ICO on certain high risk DPIAs.
Automated Decision Making
Article 22 of UK GDPR currently confers a “right” on data subjects not to be subject to automated decision making which produces legal effects or otherwise significantly affects them. Clause 11 of the Bill reframes Article 22 in terms of a positive right to human intervention. However, it would only apply to “significant” decisions, rather than decisions that produce legal effects or similarly significant effects. It is unclear whether this will make any practical difference.
The judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in “Schrems II” not only stated that organisations that transfer personal data to the US can no longer rely on the Privacy Shield Framework as a legal transfer tool. It also said that in any international data transfer situation, whether to the USA or other countries, the data exporter needs to make a complex assessment about the recipient country’s data protection legislation to ensure that it adequately protects the data especially from access by foreign security agencies (a Transfer Impact Assessment or TIA) .
The Bill amends Chapter 5 of the UK GDPR (international transfers) with the introduction of the “data protection test” for the above mentioned assessment. This would involve determining if the standard of protection provided for data subjects in the recipient country is “not materially lower” than the standard of protection in the UK. The new test would apply both to the Secretary of State, when making “adequacy” determinations, and to controllers, when deciding whether to transfer data. The explanatory notes to the Bill state that the test would not require a “point- by-point comparison” between the other country’s regime and the UK’s. Instead an assessment will be “based on outcomes i.e. the overall standard of protection for a data subject”.
An outcome based approach will be welcome by organisations who regularly transfer personal data internationally especially where it is of no practical interest to foreign security agencies. However, this proposed approach will attract the attention of the EU (see later). (see also our forthcoming International Transfers webinar).
The Information Commission
Under clause 100 of the Bill, the Information Commissioner’s Office will transform into the Information Commission; a corporate body with a chief executive (presumably John Edwards, the current Commissioner).
The Commission would have a principal function of overseeing data protection alongside additional duties such as to have regard to the desirability of promoting innovation; the desirability of promoting competition; the importance of the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences; and the need to safeguard public security and national security. New powers for the Commission include an audit/assessment power (clause 35) to require a controller to appoint a person to prepare and provide a report and to compel individuals to attend for interviews (clause 36) in civil and criminal investigations.
The Bill also proposes to abolish the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Biometrics Commissioner.
Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003
Currently, under PECR, cookies (and similar technologies) can only be used to store or access information on end user terminal equipment without express consent where it is “strictly necessary” e.g. website security or proper functioning of the site. The Bill proposes allowing cookies to be used without consent for the purposes of web analytics and to install automatic software updates (see the GDPR enforcement cases involving Google Analytics).
Another notable proposed change to PECR, involves extending “the soft opt-in” to electronic communications from organisations other than businesses. This would permit political parties, charities and other non-profits to send unsolicited email and SMS direct marketing to individuals without consent, where they have an existing supporter relationship with the recipient.
Finally on PECR, the Bill proposes to increase the fines for infringement from the current maximum of £500,000 to UK GDPR levels i.e. up to £17.5m of 4% of global annual turnover (whichever is higher).
The Bill would give the Secretary of State and the Treasury the power to issue regulations requiring “data holders” to make available “customer data” and “business data” to customers or third parties, as well as regulations requiring certain processing, such as collection and retention, of such data. “Customers” would not just be data subjects, but anyone who purchased (or received for free) goods, services or digital content from a trader in a consumer (rather than business) context. “Business data” would include information about goods, services and digital content supplied or provided by a trader. It would also include information about where those goods etc. are supplied, the terms on which they are supplied or provided, prices or performance and information relating to feedback from customers. Customers would potentially have a right to access their data, which might include information on the customer’s usage patterns and the price paid to aid personalised price comparisons. Similarly, businesses could potentially be required to publish, or otherwise make available, business data.
These provisions go much further than existing data portability provisions in the UK GDPR. The latter does not guarantee provision of data in “real time”, nor cover wider contextual data. Nor do they apply where the customer is not an individual.
The Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. The impact assessment reiterates that “the government’s view is that reform of UK legislation on personal data is compatible with the EU maintaining free flow of personal data from Europe.” However, with the multiple amendments proposed in the Bill, the UK GDPR is starting to look quite different to the EU version. And the more the two regimes diverge, the more there is a risk that the EU might put a “spanner in the works” when the UK adequacy assessment is reviewed in 2024. Much depends on the balance struck in the final text of the Bill.
The Honours List file contained the details of 1097 people, including the singer Sir Elton John, cricketer Ben Stokes, the politician Iain Duncan Smith and the TV cook Nadiya Hussain. More than a dozen MoD employees and senior counter-terrorism officers as well as holocaust survivors were also on the list which was published online at 10.30pm on Friday 26th December 2019. After becoming aware of the data breach, the Cabinet Office removed the weblink to the file. However, the file was still cached and accessible online to people who had the exact webpage address.
The personal data was available online for a period of two hours and 21 minutes and it was accessed 3,872 times. The vast majority of people on the list had their house numbers, street names and postcodes published with their name. One of the lessons here is, always have a second person check the data before pressing “publish”.
This is the first ever GDPR fine issued by the ICO to a public sector organisation. A stark contrast to the ICO’s fines under the DPA 1998 where they started with a local authority. Article 82(1) sets out the right to compensation:
“Any person who has suffered material or non-material damage as a result of an infringement of this Regulation shall have the right to receive compensation from the controller or processor for the damage suffered.”
It will be interesting to see how many of the affected individuals pursue a civil claim.
(See also our blog post from the time the breach was reported.)
The code is not law nor does it ‘enforce’ data sharing, but it does provide some useful steps to consider when sharing personal data either as a one off or as part of an ongoing arrangement. Data Protection professionals, and the staff in the organisations they serve, will still need to navigate a way through various pressures, frameworks, and expectations on the sharing of personal data; case by case, framework by framework. A more detailed post on the contents of the code can be read here.
Act Now Training is pleased to announce a new full day ‘hands on’ workshop for Data Protection professionals on Data Sharing. Our expert trainer, Scott Sammons, will look at the practical steps to take, sharing frameworks and protocols, risks to consider etc. Scott will also explore how, as part of your wider IG framework, you can establish a proactive support framework; making it easier for staff to understand their data sharing obligations/expectations and driving down the temptation to use a ‘Data Protection Duck out’ for why something was shared/not shared inappropriately.
Delegates will also be encouraged to bring a data sharing scenario to discuss with fellow delegates and the tutor. This workshop can also be customised and delivered to your organisation at your premises or virtually. Get in touch to learn more.