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New era for personal data protection

Work is underway on a General Data Protection Regulation for the EU. The changes expected in the new legislation will be important for outsourcing companies. Among the planned changes, there will be severe sanctions for violation of data protection regulations. 

On 17 December 2015, the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs voted in favour of the proposed Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data. The draft adopted is the result of several years of legislative work, discussions among stakeholders, and weighing of competing priorities. The proposal is a point of departure for further legislative work and may undergo further modifications. Nonetheless, it gives a clear picture of the General Data Protection Regulation which is soon expected to become law. A major reform of the data protection system throughout the European Union is about to take place.

When enacted, the General Data Protection Regulation, as it is known, will apply directly in the member states of the European Union, superseding the Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) and its implementations in national law (in Poland, the Personal Data Protection Act of 29 August 1997).

In this article we highlight selected changes to be introduced when the General Data Protection Regulation is adopted and enters into force which may be particularly important for the outsourcing sector.

Scope of application of the regulation

The regulation is to apply to processing of personal data when the processing occurs in the context of the activity of a data controller or data processor based in the EU, regardless of whether the processing occurs in the EU. This means that it will be necessary in each case to analyse the factual circumstances under which the controller processes data.

The regulation will also apply to processing of data of entities from the EU by a data controller or processor based outside the EU, if the processing is connected with offering of goods or services (including free of charge) or observation (monitoring) of the behaviour of data subjects, if the monitoring occurs in the EU.

The regulation contains a number of new solutions designed to make it easier to conduct business operations in compliance with data processing rules. These include:

  • Application of a single regulation in all EU countries—the same legal and business solutions may be applied across numerous jurisdictions
  • One-stop–shop rule, under which a business will be subject to oversight by only one national data protection authority, even if it operates in numerous EU countries
  • Risk-based approach, which can moderate the obligations of a data controller depending on the actual risk to data protection presented by the data controller’s operations.

Data controllers and processors

The draft regulation addresses the requirements for entities processing data more specifically than the current law. For example, the controller is required to select an entity providing adequate guarantees of implementation of appropriate means and technical and organisational procedures so that processing of the data meets the requirements of the regulation. It also specifies the elements that must be established in the agreement between the data controller and the data processor.

Notification of data protection breaches

The draft regulation imposes on data controllers an obligation that does not exist under current law to notify the supervisory authority (in Poland, the Inspector General for Personal Data Protection—GIODO) of a breach of personal data protection. The notification must be made without undue delay, but no later than 72 hours after the event. If this deadline is not met, the reasons for the delay must be explained. The notification must include, at least, a description of the nature of the breach, including the categories and number of data subjects potentially affected, the identity and contact details of the data protection officer or other contact point where more information can be obtained, the anticipated consequences of the breach, and the measures proposed or taken to minimise or eliminate the negative consequences of the breach. If complete information cannot be provided immediately, it should be supplemented when possible, along with documentation of remedial measures so that the supervisory authority can verify that they are proper and adequate. Data processors will be subject to a similar notification obligation in the case of a breach, but they should notify the data controller.

The data controller also has to notify the data subject of a breach of data protection, providing an understandable description of the breach, the potential consequences, and the remedial measures. This notice will be required only when the breach carries a high risk of infringement of the rights and freedoms of the data subject. The data controller will be released from the requirement to notify data subjects if it has implemented technological and organisational measures to protect the data affected by the breach, particularly by rendering the data unintelligible to third parties (e.g. through encryption), where the measures taken by the controller have eliminated the risks to the rights and freedoms of the data subjects, and where the notification of data subjects would be disproportionately burdensome to the contractor (in which case the direct notification of data subjects can be replaced by public announcements or other means with similar effect).

The obligation to report data breaches is a major change from current law. Now data controllers and processors do not have to disclose such events. Outside of the public eye, they make their own choice of remedial measures according to their capabilities. Any inadequacies or incompleteness in the solutions they adopt may only be identified in the event of an inspection by GIODO. The proposed model will ensure that in the event of a breach, the data controller will implement remedial measures in close dialogue with GIODO and under GIODO’s supervision. This will reduce the risk that measures will be used that are not adequate to the nature of the breach.

Sanctions for violating data protection regulations

The current law in Poland provides sanctions for violation of data protection regulations (for petty offences and criminal offences), but their application is typically limited to liability for a petty offence (not very severe), while it is exceedingly rare for criminal responsibility to be imposed (because the societal harm of the act is deemed to be low). Thus there is an absence of a proportionally severe sanction to be applied even in the case of small-scale violations.

This gap will be filled by administrative fines imposed by GIODO. The amount of the fines would reflect such factors as the nature, gravity, duration and consequences of the violation, the degree of fault, the infringer’s responsibility for implementing proper technical and organisational measures, the remedial actions taken to limit or eliminate the negative consequences of the violation and cooperation with GIODO in this respect, previous violations, and the manner in which GIODO learned of the violation.

The maximum fine, depending on the nature of the violation, would be EUR 10 million or 20 million, or in the case of an enterprise, 2% or 4% of its total annual revenue in the preceding year. The member states are to adopt executive regulations concerning inspection proceedings and procedures for imposing and enforcing penalties, which should be proportionate but severe enough to act as a deterrent.

Data controllers and processors would also be liable (based on fault) for injury caused by unlawful processing of data. Any person who suffers material or non-material damage as a result of unlawful processing of personal data may demand compensation. The data controller’s liability is limited to cases where it has violated the regulation, while the data processor’s liability is limited to violation of the provisions of the regulation addressed specifically to data processors or for acting contrary to the data controller’s instructions. The controller and the processor would bear joint and several liability for the same occurrence, but could assert claims for recourse between one another.

Sylwia Paszek, Agnieszka Szydlik, Katarzyna Żukowska, Personal Data Protection Practice, Wardyński & Partners