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On August 5, the FTC Commissioners testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and discussed, among other things, the agency’s continued enforcement of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, despite the recent Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) invalidation of the framework, and their interest in federal data privacy legislation. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July, the CJEU determined that because the requirements of U.S. national security, public interest and law enforcement have “primacy” over the data protection principles of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, the data transferred under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield would not be subject to the same level of protections prescribed by the EU General Data Protection Regulation, and thus, declared the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield invalid.
In his opening remarks, Commissioner Simons emphasized that the FTC will “continue to hold companies accountable for their privacy commitments, including privacy promises made under the Privacy Shield,” which the FTC has also noted on its website. Additionally, Simons urged Congress to enact federal privacy and data security legislation, that would be enforced by the FTC and give the agency, among other things, the “ability to seek civil penalties” and “targeted [Administrative Procedures Act] rulemaking authority to ensure that the law keeps pace with changes and technology in the market.” Moreover, Commissioner Wilson agreed with a senator’s proposition that the enactment of a preemptive federal privacy framework would make “achieving a future adequacy determination by the E.U. easier.”
On July 17, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a joint statement on the EU - U.S. Financial Regulatory Forum, which met virtually on July 14 and 15 and included participants from Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC. Forum participants discussed six key themes: (i) potential financial stability implications and economic responses to the Covid-19 pandemic; (ii) capital market supervisory and regulatory cooperation, including cross-border supervision; (iii) “multilateral and bilateral engagement in banking and insurance,” including “cross-border resolution of systemic banks” and Volcker Rule implementation; (iv) approaches to anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism financing and remittances; (v) the regulation and supervision of digital finance and financial innovation, such as “digital operational resilience and developments in crypto-assets, so-called stablecoins, and central bank digital currencies”; and (vi) sustainable finance developments. EU and U.S. participants recognized the importance of communicating mutual supervisory and regulatory concerns to “support financial stability, investor protection, market integrity, and a level playing field.”
Court of Justice of the European Union invalidates EU-U.S. Privacy Shield; standard contractual clauses survive (for now)
On July 16, 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued its opinion in the Schrems II case (Case C-311/18). In its opinion, the CJEU concluded that the Standard Contractual Clauses issued by the European Commission for the transfer of personal data to data processors established outside of the EU are valid. However, the Court invalidated the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield. The ruling cannot be appealed.
In 2015, a privacy campaigner named Max Schrems filed a complaint with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner challenging a global social media company’s use of data transfers from servers in Ireland to servicers in the U.S. Schrems argued that U.S. laws did not offer sufficient protection of EU customer data, that EU customer data might be at risk of being accessed and processed by the U.S. government once transferred, and that there was no remedy available to EU individuals to ensure protection of their personal data after transfer to the U.S. Schrems sought the suspension or prohibition of future data transfers, which were executed by the company through standard data protection contractual clauses (a method approved by the Court in 2010 by Decision 2010/87). The social media company had utilized these standard contractual clauses after the CJEU invalidated the U.S. – EU Safe Harbor Framework in 2015.
Following the complaint, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner brought proceedings against the social media company in the Irish High Court, which referred numerous questions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling, including questions addressing the validity of the standard contractual clauses and the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.
CJEU Opinion – Standard Contractual Clauses (Decision 2010/87)
Upon review of the recommendations from the CJEU’s Advocate General published on December 19, 2019, the CJEU found the Decision approving the use of contractual clauses to transfer personal data valid.
The CJEU noted that the GDPR applies to the transfer of personal data for commercial purposes by a company operating in an EU member state to another company outside of the EU, notwithstanding the third-party country’s processing of the data under its own security laws. Moreover, the CJEU explained that data protection contractual clauses between an EU company and a company operating in a third-party country must afford a level of protection “essentially equivalent to that which is guaranteed within the European Union” under the GDPR. According to the CJEU, the level of protection must take into consideration not only the contractual clauses executed by the companies, but the “relevant aspects of the legal system of that third country.”
As for the Decision 2010/87, the CJEU determined that it provides effective mechanisms to, in practice, ensure contractual clauses governing data transfers are in compliance with the level of protection requirement by the GDPR, and appropriately requires the suspension or prohibition of transfers in the event the clauses are breached or unable to be honored. The CJEU specifically highlighted the certification required by the EU data exporter and the third-party country recipient to verify, prior to any transfer, (i) the level of data protection in the third-party country prior to any transfer; and (ii) abilities to comply with the data protection clauses.
CJEU Opinion - EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, (Decision 2016/1250)
The CJEU decided to examine and rule on the validity of the EU – U.S. Privacy Shield. The CJEU determined that because the requirements of U.S. national security, public interest and law enforcement have “primacy” over the data protection principles of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, the data transferred under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield would not be subject to the same level of protections prescribed by the GDPR. Specifically, the CJEU held that the surveillance programs used by U.S. authorities are not proportionally equivalent to those allowed under the EU law because they are not “limited to what is strictly necessary,” nor, under certain surveillance programs, does the U.S. “grant data subjects actionable rights before the courts against the U.S. authorities.” Moreover, the CJEU rejected the argument that the Ombudsperson mechanism satisfies the GDPR’s right to judicial protection, stating that it “does not provide any cause of action before a body which offers the persons whose data is transferred to the United States guarantees essentially equivalent to those required by [the GDPR],” and the Ombudsperson “cannot be regarded as a tribunal.” Thus, on those grounds, the CJEU declared the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield invalid.
On February 19, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a joint statement on the U.S. – EU Financial Regulatory Forum held February 11-12 in Washington, D.C. U.S. participants included officials from the Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, OCC, and Treasury. Forum topics focused on five key themes: “(1) supervision and regulation of cross-border activities, particularly in the areas of derivatives and central clearing; (2) the importance of monitoring market developments, both in relation to financial assets classes, like leveraged loans and collateralized loan obligations, and reference rates, like the London Interbank Offered Rate; (3) implementation of international standards in banking and insurance; (4) regulatory issues presented by fintech/digital finance; and (5) EU regulations related to sustainable finance.”
Among other topics, participants discussed U.S. banking developments concerning prudential requirements for foreign banks, including tailoring standards based on risk; proposed amendments to the Volcker Rule; EU data protection rules; cross-border supervision and data flow in financial services; the transition period following the U.K.’s departure from the EU; and European Commission priorities such as preventing and combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Participants acknowledged the importance of fostering continued dialogue between the U.S. and the EU noting that, “[r]egular communication on supervisory and regulatory issues of mutual concern should foster financial stability, supervisory cooperation, investor protection, market integrity, and a level playing field.”
EU Court of Justice: Orders to remove defamatory content issued by member state courts can be applied worldwide
On October 3, the European Court of Justice held that a social media company can be ordered to remove, worldwide, defamatory content previously declared to be unlawful “irrespective of who required the storage of that information.” The decision results from a 2016 challenge brought by a former Austrian politician against the social media company’s Ireland-based operation—responsible for users located outside of the U.S. and Canada—to remove defamatory posts and comments made about her on a user’s personal page that was accessible to any user. The social media company disabled access to the content after an Austrian court issued an interim order, which found the posts to be “harmful to her reputation,” and ordered the social media company to cease and desist “publishing and/or disseminating photographs” showing the former politician “if the accompanying text contained the assertions, verbatim and/or [used] words having an equivalent meaning as that of the comment” originally at issue. On appeal, the higher regional court upheld the order but determined that “the dissemination of allegations of equivalent content had to cease only as regards [to] those brought to the knowledge of the [social media company] by the [former politician] in the main proceedings, by third parties or otherwise.”
The Austrian Supreme Court of Justice requested that the EU Court of Justice adjudicate whether the cease and desist order may also be “extended to statements with identical wording and/or having equivalent content of which it is not aware” under Article 15(1) of Directive 2000/31 (commonly known as the “directive on electronic commerce”). Specifically, the EU Court of Justice considered (i) whether Directive 2000/31 generally precludes a host provider that has not “expeditiously removed illegal information”—including identically worded items of information—from removing content wordwide; (ii) if Directive 2000/31 does not preclude the host provider from its obligations, “does this also apply in each case for information with an equivalent meaning”; and (iii) does Directive 2000/31 also apply to “information with an equivalent meaning as soon as the operator has become aware of this circumstance.”
According to the judgment, Directive 2000/31 “does not preclude those injunction measures from producing effects worldwide,” holding that a national court within the member states may order host providers to remove posts it finds defamatory or illegal. However, the judges concluded that such an order must function “within the framework of the relevant international law.”
On October 1, the European Court of Justice held that, under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (ePrivacy Directive), a website user does not “consent” to the use of a cookie when a website provides a “pre-checked box” that needs to be deselected for a user to withdraw consent. According to the judgment, a consumer group brought an action in German court against a German lottery company, challenging the website’s use of a pre-checked box allowing the website to place a cookie—text files stored on the user’s computer allowing website providers to collect information about a user’s behavior when the user visits the website—unless the consumer deselected the box. The consumer group argued that the pre-selection of the box is not valid consent under the ePrivacy Directive. The lower court had upheld the action in part, but, following an appeal, the German Federal Court of Justice stayed the proceedings and referred the matter to the EU Court of Justice.
On September 24, the European Court of Justice held that Europe’s “right to be forgotten” online privacy law — which allows individuals to request the deletion of personal information from online sources that the individual believes infringes on their right to privacy—can be applied only in the European Union. The decision results from a challenge by a global search engine to a 2015 order by a French regulator, Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), requiring the search engine to delist certain links from all of its global domains, not just domains originating from the European Union. The search engine refused to comply with the order, and the CNIL imposed a 100,000 EUR penalty. The search engine sought annulment of the order and penalty, arguing that the “right to be forgotten” does not “necessarily require that the links at issue are to be removed, without geographical limitation, from all its search engine’s domain names.” Moreover, the search engine asserted that the CNIL “disregarded the principles of courtesy and non-interference recognised by public international law” and infringed on the freedoms of expression, information, and communication.
The Court of Justice agreed with the search engine. Specifically, the Court noted that while the “internet is a global network without borders” and internet users’ access outside of the EU to a referencing link to privacy infringing personal information is “likely to have immediate and substantial effects on that person within the Union itself,” there is no obligation under current EU law for a search engine to carry out the requested deletion on all global versions of its network. The Court explained that numerous nations do not recognize “the right to be forgotten” or take an alternate approach to the right. Additionally, the Court emphasized that “the right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right, but must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.” The Court concluded that, while the EU struck that balance within its union, “it has not, to date, struck such a balance as regards the scope of a de-referencing outside of the union.”
U.S. Treasury concerned with European Commission's identification of AML/CFT-deficient U.S. territories
On February 13, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a statement responding to a list of jurisdictions published by the European Commission as having strategic deficiencies related to anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). The list—which includes certain jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies that were already identified by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) (see previous InfoBytes coverage here)—also identifies 11 additional jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the European Commission, the “banks and other entities covered by EU anti-money laundering rules will be required to apply increased checks (due diligence) on financial operations involving customers and financial institutions from these high-risk third countries to better identify any suspicious money flows.”
On December 16, the European Union’s (EU) data protection regulator, the Article 29 Working Party (WP29), released its first official guidance on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), EU’s new privacy regime. Composed of three sets of guidelines and FAQs, the guidance covers a range of issues, including the qualification, appointment, and personal liability of data protection officers (DPOs). Links to the six guidance documents follow:
- (i) Guidelines & FAQs on the right to data portability;
- (ii) Guidelines & FAQs on DPOs; and
- (iii) Guidelines & FAQs on identifying the “lead supervisory authority” for cross-border activity.
The WP29 also announced that it is accepting additional comments on this guidance through the end of January 2017, and that it will release guidelines on Data Protection Impact Assessments and Certifications in 2017. The GDPR is set to take effect in May 2018.
Implementation of New EU Regulation Establishes Uniform Legal Framework for e-Signatures Across All EU Member States
Recently, the EU adopted a new EU Electronic Signature Regulation 910/2014/EU, which established a new, comprehensive, legal framework for e-signatures, as well as e-identification, e-seals, e-timestamp, e-documents, e-delivery services, and website authentication. The new regulation applies to transactions dating back to July 1, replacing the prior Directive on Electronic Signatures (1999/93/EC). Among other things, the new regulation defines three levels of e-Signatures: (i) e-Signature, (ii) advanced e-Signature, and (iii) qualified e-Signature. “E-Signature” is defined as data in electronic form which are attached to, or logically associated with, other electronic data, which are used by the signatory to sign. “Advanced electronic signature” is defined as uniquely linked to the signatory, capable of identifying the signatory, and created using e-signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under his sole control. And finally, a “qualified electronic signature” is defined as an advanced electronic signature created by a qualified electronic signature creation device.
Notably, and in contrast to previous EU directives on e-signatures, the new regulation is directly applicable in all 28 EU Member States without any requirement that it be formally adopted into national law. Specifically, Article 25 of the New Regulation provides that an electronic signature shall not be denied legal effect and admissibility as evidence in legal proceedings solely on the grounds that it is in an electronic form or that it does not meet the requirements for qualified electronic signatures. Rather, a qualified electronic signature in one EU Member State shall now be recognized as a qualified electronic signature in all other Member States.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “How the new administration sets the tone for 2021” at the American Conference Institute Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Forum on Fintech & Emerging Payment Systems
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- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
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- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable