Posts Tagged Right to be forgotten

‘Right to be forgotten’ /data protection laws and the internet referred to CJEU.

Many thanks to KU Leuven law student Dzsenifer Orosz (she is writing a paper on the issues for one of my conflict of laws courses) for alerting me to the French Conseil D’Etat having referred ‘right to be forgotten’ issues to the European Court of Justice.  I have of course on occasion reported the application of data protection laws /privacy issues on this blog (try ‘Google’ as a search on the blog’s search function). I also have a paper out on the case against applying the right to be forgotten to the .com domain, and with co-authors, one where we catalogue the application of RTBF until December 2016. See also my post on the Koln courts refusing application to .com.

The Conseil d’Etat has referred one or two specific Qs but also, just to be sure, has also asked the Court of Justice for general insight into how data protection laws apply to the internet. The Court is unlikely to offer such tutorial (not that it would not be useful). However any Advocate General’s opinion of course will offer 360 insight.

One to look forward to.

Geert.

 

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The Brussels Court of Appeal is spot on on Facebook, privacy, Belgium and jurisdiction.

The Brussels Court of Appeal has sided with Facebook  on 29 June. This post I am going to keep very, very simple: told you so. Geert.

 

 

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It’s true! Belgian Supreme Court confirms order for Yahoo! to hand over IP-addresses.

Jurisdiction and the internet is a topic which has featured once or twice on this blog recently (and in a  paper which I have already referred to in those earlier postings). Belgian’s Supreme Court in ordinary (the Hof van Cassatie /Cour de Cassation) employed the objective territoriality principle in a case with roots going back to 2007 (the fraudulent purchase of and subsequent failure to pay for electronic equipment from a shop in Dendermonde, Belgium), Yahoo! was requested to hand over the IP addresses associated with e-mail accounts registered to Yahoo!’s e-mail service. Yahoo! Inc, domiciled in California, refused to comply, triggering fines under criminal law.

Responding to Yahoo!s claims that Belgium was imposing its criminal laws extraterritorially, the Court of Appeal had held that Yahoo! is territorially present in Belgium, hereby voluntarily submitting itself to the jurisdiction of the Belgian authorities: it takes an active part in economic life in Belgium, among others by use of the domain name http://www.yahoo.be, the use of the local language(s) on that website, pop-up of advertisements based on the location of the users, and accessibility in Belgium of Belgium-focussed customer services (among others: a ‘Belgian’ Q&A, FAQ, and post box). [Notice the similarity with the Pammer /Alpenhof criteria]. The Court of Appeal had suggested that the accusations of extraterritoriality could only be accepted had there been a request for the handover of data or objects which are located in the USA, with which there is no Belgian territorial link whatsoever, and if the holder of these objects or data is not accessible in Belgium (either physically or virtually).

The Supreme Court on 1 December confirmed all of the Court of Appeal’s arguments, essentially linking them to the objective territoriality principle. Yahoo! actively directs its activities towards consumers present in Belgium.

Even though the case involves a criminal proceeding, the Court’s judgment inevitably (not necessarily justifiably) will be used as further support for the Belgian tussle with Facebook.

Geert.

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Not the way the datr cookie crumbles. Belgian courts on soggy jurisdictional grounds in Facebook privacy ruling.

Update 11 July 2016 the Court of Appeal has sided with FB on 29 June. No surprises there!

Update 9 February 2016 the French privacy commission has now mirrored the Belgian action

Quite a lot of attention has been going to a Belgian court ordering Facebook to stop collecting data from non-users through the use of so-called datr cookies.  Applicant is Willem Debeuckelaere, the chairman of the Belgian privacy commission, in his capacity as chairman (not, therefore, as a private individual). Our interest here is of course in the court’s finding that it has jurisdiction to hear the case, and that it can apply Belgian law. The judgment is drafted in Dutch – an English (succinct) summary is available here.

Defendants are three parties: Facebook Inc, domiciled in California; Facebook Belgium BVBA, domiciled in Brussels; and Facebook Ireland Ltd., domiciled in Dublin. Facebook Belgium essentially is FB’s public affairs office in the EU. FB Ireland delivers FB services to the EU market.

Directive 95/46 and the Brussels I Recast Regulation operate in a parallel universe. The former dictates jurisdiction and applicable law at the level of the relationship between data protection authorities (DPAs), and data processors (the FBs, Googles etc. of this world). The latter concerns the relation between private individuals and both authorities and processors alike. That parallelism explains, for instance, why Mr Schrems is pursuing the Irish DPA in the Irish Courts, and additionally, FB in the Austrian courts.

Current litigation against FB lies squarely in the context of Directive 95/46. This need not have been the case: Mr Debeuckelaere, aforementioned, could have sued in his personal capacity. If he is not a FB customer, at the least vis-a-vis FB Ireland, this could have easily established jurisdiction on the basis of Article 7(2)’s jurisdiction for tort (here: invasion of privacy): with Belgium as the locus damni. Jurisdiction against FB Inc can not so be established in the basis of Article 7(2) (it does not apply to defendants based outside the EU). If the chairman qq natural person is a FB customer, jurisdiction for the Belgian courts may be based on the consumer contracts provisions of Regulation 1215/2012 – however that would have defeated the purpose of addressing FB’s policy vis-a-vis non-users, which I understand is what datr cookies are about.

Instead, the decision was taken (whether informed or not) to sue purely on the basis of the data protection Directive. This of course requires application of the jurisdictional trigger clarified in Google Spain. German precedent prior to the Google Spain judgment, did not look promising (Schleswig-Holstein v Facebook).

At the least, the Belgian court’s application of the Google Spain test, is debatable: as I note in the previous post,

Article 4(1)(a) of Directive 95/46 does not require the processing of personal data in question to be carried out ‘by’ the establishment concerned itself, but only that it be carried out ‘in the context of the activities’ of the establishment (at 52): that is the case if the latter is intended to promote and sell, in that Member State, advertising space offered by the search engine which serves to make the service offered by that engine profitable (at 55). The very display of personal data on a search results page constitutes processing of such data. Since that display of results is accompanied, on the same page, by the display of advertising linked to the search terms, it is clear that the processing of personal data in question is carried out in the context of the commercial and advertising activity of the controller’s establishment on the territory of a Member State, in this instance Spanish territory (at 57).

Google Spain’s task was providing support to the Google group’s advertising activity which is separate from its search engine service. Per the formula recalled above, this sufficed to trigger jurisdiction for the Spanish DPA. Google Spain is tasked to promote and sell, in that Member State, advertising space offered by the search engine which serves to make the service offered by that engine profitable. The Belgian court accepts jurisdiction on the basis of Facebook Belgium’s activities being ‘inseparably linked’ (at p.15) to Facebook’s activities. With respect, I do not think this was the intention of the CJEU in Google Spain. At the very least, the court’s finding undermines the one stop principle of the data protection Directive, for Belgium’s position viz the EU Institutions means that almost all data processors have some form of public interest representation in Belgium, often indeed taking the form of a BVBA or a VZW (the latter meaning a not for profit association).

The court further justifies (p.16) its jurisdiction on the basis of the measures being provisionary. Provisionary measures fall outside the jurisdictional matrix of the Brussels I (Recast), provided they are indeed provisionary, and provided there is a link between the territory concerned and the provisional measures imposed. How exactly such jurisdiction can be upheld vis-a-vis Facebook Ireland and Facebook Inc, is not clarified by the court.

The court does limit the provisionary measures territorially: FB is only ordered to stop using datr cookies tracking data of non-FB users ‘vis-a-vis internetusers on Belgian territory’, lest these be informed of same.

I mentioned above that the data protection Directive and the Brussels I recast can be quite clearly distinguished at the level of jurisdiction. However findings of courts or public authorities on the basis of either of them, do still face the hurdle of enforcement. That is no different in this case. Recognition and enforcement of the judgment vis-a-vis FB Inc will have to follow a rather complex route, and it is not inconceivable that the US (in particular, the State of California) will refuse recognition on the basis of perceived extraterritorial jurisdictional claims (see here for a pondering of the issues). Even vis-a-vis Facebook Ireland, however, one can imagine enforcement difficulties. Even if these provisionary measures are covered by the Brussels I Recast (which may not be the case given the public character of plaintiff), such measures issued by courts which lack jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter, are not covered by the enforcement Title of the Regulation.

All in all, plenty to be discussed in appeal.

Geert.

 

 

 

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A bar to ‘extraterritorial’ EU law. Landgericht Koln refuses to extend ‘right to be forgotten’ to .com domain .

Postcript 11 March 2016 Google have announced a new policy which  goes some way to addressing the EU’s concerns. An unusually conciliatory move.

An inevitable consequence of the rulings in Google Spain, Weltimmo and Schrems /Facebook /Safe harbour, is whether courts in the EU can or perhaps even must insist on extending EU data protection rules to websites outside of EU domain. The case has led to suggestions of ‘exterritorial reach’ of Google Spain or the ‘global reach’ of the RTBF, coupled with accusations that the EU oversteps its ‘jurisdictional boundaries’. This follows especially the order or at least intention, by the French and other data protection agencies, that Google extend its compliance policy to the .com webdomain.

The Landgericht Köln mid September (the case has only now reached the relevant databases) in my view justifiably withheld enforcement jurisdiction in a libel case only against Google.de for that is the website aimed at the German market. It rejected extension of the removal order vis-à-vis Google.com, in spite of a possibility for German residents to reach Google.com, because that service is not intended for the German speaking area and anyone wanting to reach it, has to do so intentionally. (See the ruling under 1, para 3 and 4).

I have further context to this issue in a paper which is on SSRN and which is being peer reviewed as we speak (I count readers of this blog as peers hence do please forward any comments).

Geert.

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Forget Facebook and Safe Harbour. CJEU in Weltimmo confirms wide prescriptive but finds limited executive jurisdiction in EU data protection.

A lot of attention last week went to the CJEU’s annulment of the EC’s ‘Safe Harbour’ decision in Schrems v Facebook  (aka Austrian student takes on internet giant). I will not detail that finding for I assume, for once, that readers will be au fait with that judgment. For those who are not: please refer to Steve Peers for excellent analysis as per usual. It is noteworthy though that the CJEU’s finding in Schrems is based in the main on a finding of ultra vires: often easily remedied, as those with a background in public law will know.

Schrems (held 6 October) confirmed the Court’s approach to the EU’s prescriptive jurisdiction in data protection laws, as in Google Spain. However the Thursday before, on 1 October, the Court took a more restrictive view on ‘executive’ or ‘enforcement’ jurisdiction in Case C-230/14 Weltimmo. Lorna Woods has the general context and findings over at EU Law analysis. The essence in my view is that the Court insists on internal limitations to enforcement. It discussed the scope of national supervisory authority’s power in the context of Directive 95/4, the same directive which was at issue in Google Spain. The Court held

Where the supervisory authority of a Member State, to which complaints have been submitted in accordance with Article 28(4) of Directive 95/46, reaches the conclusion that the law applicable to the processing of the personal data concerned is not the law of that Member State, but the law of another Member State, Article 28(1), (3) and (6) of that directive must be interpreted as meaning that that supervisory authority will be able to exercise the effective powers of intervention conferred on it in accordance with Article 28(3) of that directive only within the territory of its own Member State. Accordingly, it cannot impose penalties on the basis of the law of that Member State on the controller with respect to the processing of those data who is not established in that territory, but should, in accordance with Article 28(6) of that directive, request the supervisory authority within the Member State whose law is applicable to act.

In other words, the supervisory authority in a Member State can examine the complaints it receives even if the law that applies to the data processing is the law of another Member State. However the scope of its sanctioning power is limited by its national borders.

This finding (I appreciate there are caveats) has important implications for the discussion on the territorial reach of the so-called ‘righ to be forgotten’. It supports in my view, the argument that the EU cannot extend its right to be forgotten rule to websites outside the EU’s domain. I have a paper forthcoming which discusses the various jurisdictional issues at stake here and the impact of Weltimmo on same.

Geert.

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ECJ in Google Spain confirms reach of EU Data Protection Directive. Right to be forgotten not withheld verbatim but may be realised in practice.

I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion in Google Spain. The Court held this morning. It broadly confirms the AG’s view on jurisdiction however it did effectively read a (conditional and incrimental) right to be forgotten in the current Directive, in contrast with the AG.

The ECJ confirmed earlier case-law in which it held that the operation of loading personal data on an internet page must be considered to be such ‘processing’ within the meaning of Article 2(b) of Directive 95/46. This finding is not affected  by the fact that those data have already been published on the internet and are not altered by the search engine.

Who is the ‘controller’ of these data?  The activity of a search engine is liable to affect significantly, and additionally compared with that of the publishers of websites, the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data. The operator of the search engine as the person determining the purposes and means of that activity must ensure, within the framework of its responsibilities, powers and capabilities, that the activity meets the requirements of Directive 95/46 in order that the guarantees laid down by the directive may have full effect and that effective and complete protection of data subjects, in particular of their right to privacy, may actually be achieved.  It is this operator who is the ‘controller’ within the meaning of the Directive.

The territorial scope of the Directive is the most relevant to the conflicts community: It is noteworthy that in the current version of the data protection directive, targeting of consumers is not a jurisdictional criterion for providers established outside of the EU.

The referring court had stated that Google Search is operated and managed by Google Inc. and that it has not been established that Google Spain carries out in Spain an activity directly linked to the indexing or storage of information or data contained on third parties’ websites. Nevertheless, according to the referring court, the promotion and sale of advertising space, which Google Spain attends to in respect of Spain, constitutes the bulk of the Google group’s commercial activity and may be regarded as closely linked to Google Search.

The ECJ notes that Google Spain engages in the effective and real exercise of activity through stable arrangements in Spain. As it moreover has separate legal personality, it constitutes a subsidiary of Google Inc. on Spanish territory and, therefore, an ‘establishment’ within the meaning of Article 4(1)(a) of Directive 95/46. However, is the processing of personal data by the controller ‘carried out in the context of the activities’ of an establishment of the controller on the territory of a Member State (necessary to trigger application of the Directive)?

Google Spain and Google Inc. dispute that this is the case since the processing of personal data at issue in the main proceedings is carried out exclusively by Google Inc., which operates Google Search without any intervention on the part of Google Spain; the latter’s activity is limited to providing support to the Google group’s advertising activity which is separate from its search engine service.

The court disagreed: Article 4(1)(a) of Directive 95/46 does not require the processing of personal data in question to be carried out ‘by’ the establishment concerned itself, but only that it be carried out ‘in the context of the activities’ of the establishment (at 52): that is the case if the latter is intended to promote and sell, in that Member State, advertising space offered by the search engine which serves to make the service offered by that engine profitable (at 55). The very display of personal data on a search results page constitutes processing of such data. Since that display of results is accompanied, on the same page, by the display of advertising linked to the search terms, it is clear that the processing of personal data in question is carried out in the context of the commercial and advertising activity of the controller’s establishment on the territory of a Member State, in this instance Spanish territory (at 57).

This view confirms broadly the AG’s use of Google’s ‘business model’ as a jurisdictional trigger.

 

The AG had also opined on the supposed ‘right to be forgotten’ concluding that it does not exist in current EU law (neither directive nor Charter). The ECJ’s findings work towards such right (without mentioning it specifically)  following a thorough review of the requirements of the Directive and the proportionality test implied, and by holding that given the ease with which information published on a website can be replicated on other sites and the fact that the persons responsible for its publication are not always subject to European Union legislation, effective and complete protection of data users could not be achieved if the latter had to obtain first or in parallel the erasure of the information relating to them from the publishers of websites.

The operator of a search engine may therefore be obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person, also in a case where that name or information is not erased beforehand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful (at 88). The right to privacy however has to be assessed vis-a-vis the right of the public to information, in an ad hoc manner.

The judgment has plenty for the data protection community to chew over (sse e.g. Orla Linskey over at the EU law blog). For those of us who are conflicts lawyers, the jurisdictional trigger is most interesting (and will feed into the review of the Directive, one imagines).

Geert.

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