The following are a selection of recent relevant developments in data protection.
Appointment of the new Data Protection Commissioner
Helen Dixon was appointed as the new Irish Data Protection Commissioner in September 2014. Ms Dixon has succeeded the previous Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes, who retired in August having held the position since 2005.
Ms Dixon has experience in both the public and private sectors, through positions in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and with US IT multinationals. Her most recent post was as Registrar for the Companies Registration Office.
The Data Protection Commissioner is responsible for enforcing data protection law in Ireland and for upholding the rights of individuals as set out in the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner is significant given the large number of technology companies which are based in Ireland. This role is set to expand under the forthcoming Data Protection Regulation which is due to create a ‘one stop shop’ policy for data protection, whereby the regulator of the country where a company’s main operations are situated will be responsible for its compliance with data protection law throughout the EU.
Global Privacy Sweep raises concerns about mobile apps
The results of the second annual Global Privacy Enforcement Network Privacy Sweep, which focussed on privacy in mobile apps, indicate that mobile apps are seeking to access increasing levels of personal data without providing adequate notice to data subject of the purposes for which the data will be used.
The data protection authorities involved in the Sweep examined a mix of 1,211 Apple and Android apps and free and paid apps including games, health/fitness, news and banking apps to determine the types of permissions sought by the apps, whether those permissions exceeded what appeared to be required by the apps’ functionality, and how the apps explained why the personal data was required and what would be done with the data.
The aim of the Sweep is to encourage organizations to comply with data protection law and to enhance co-operation between data protection authorities. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland examined 20 apps across various sectors, including Transport, Retail, Media, Banking, Entertainment and Government, on 14 May 2014 and found that over half of the apps examined provided only partial information regarding the collection, use and disclosure of personal information, 15% provided insufficient information and 5% provided no information at all.
EU Commissioner signals progress in data protection reform
Vìra Jourová, the new Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality recently opened the 5th Annual Data Protection & Privacy Conference in Brussels with a speech highlighting the necessity for stronger data protection rules to boost the Digital Single Market and indicated that she intends to continue the work of her predecessor, Viviane Reding, in driving data protection reform forward.
Ms Jourová spoke of the importance of strong and effectively enforced data protection rights in ensuring that Europeans can trust the internet and focussed on the benefits that the proposed data protection regulation will bring to the Digital Single Market in Europe by reducing red tape, increasing legal certainty for businesses and ensuring that companies in non-EU states will have to comply with the regulation when providing services to Europeans.
The new Commissioner also addressed the recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the right to be forgotten and emphasised that the ruling in the Google case does not provide for removal of inconvenient content but rather balances citizens’ rights against the freedom of expression of the media.
Following a meeting with Kelly Walsh, General Counsel to the US Commerce Department, Ms Jourová spoke positively of her aim to make the Safe Harbour arrangement with the United States safer and ensure that EU citizens are able to enforce their rights in US courts. She expressed hope the US administration will engage with the EU’s concerns but indicated that suspension of Safe Harbour remains an option if reform of Safe Harbour does not take place.