Data Protection and Privacy: Important developments

Jamie ArmstrongPosted by Jamie Armstrong

As Associate Legal Counsel at Questionmark, I spend a lot of time thinking about data protection and privacy law issues. There have been many important developments over recent months, and I thought it would be interesting for our readers if I summarized just three of these below. I may look at others and/or consider those mentioned here in more detail in a future blog post. With a dedicated in-house technical and legal team, Questionmark is continuously monitoring changes in this field and my role helps to ensure that Questionmark is ahead of the curve in protecting our customers.

1. For around fifteen years, organizations transferring personal data from the European Union to the United States were able to rely on the US-EU Safe Harbor Agreement as a legal basis for such transfers. The Safe Harbor Agreement allowed organizations to self-certify compliance with certain data protection standards. In October 2015, the Court of Justice of the EU invalidated the EU decision that underpinned this arrangement. This meant that organizations transferring relevant data had to review their arrangements to ensure such transfers remained legal by different means, such as the EU Standard Contractual Clauses or Binding Corporate Rules – Safe Harbor can no longer be relied on for transfers of EU personal data to the US.

2. The final text of the new General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) was agreed in April this year, and the GDPR will have legal effect from May 2018. From that date, the GDPR will replace the current Data Protection Directive and will apply in all EU member states without any implementing national law required. This should help multinational organizations with compliance, as there will be more uniformity than there is now. The GDPR includes some new obligations, like requiring appointment of a data protection officer in certain cases, hence the two year lead in period to allow organizations time to prepare. The GDPR is relevant for organizations based outside the EU as it has broader effect when EU personal data processing is involved.

3. After Safe Harbor was invalidated, the US and EU authorities worked together on a replacement, known as the Privacy Shield. The initial agreed text received a cool response in Europe and was subsequently revised to address concerns, including around possible continued surveillance in the US and insufficiency of the Ombudsman role created to consider complaints. It is expected that the mechanics of the Privacy Shield will operate similarly to Safe Harbor (but with stricter requirements), with voluntarily compliance certification to the US Department of Commerce possible from August 1 of this year. Unlike the EU Standard Contractual Clauses and Binding Corporate Rules, the Privacy Shield, as with Safe Harbor, will only apply to transfers of data from the EU to the US. The collective of EU data protection authorities have recently said they will not legally challenge the Privacy Shield for at least a year, to provide an opportunity to gauge how this operates in practice.

With the above representing a very simplified summary of just three important recent developments in the data protection and privacy law field, organizations that control and process personal data clearly need to maintain a heightened level of vigilance to be positioned to respond to the shifting landscape. Check back here for updates on these and other relevant developments in future blog posts.

Disclaimer: This blog post is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Any views included are personal to me.

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