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On 26 July 2017 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered its Opinion that the draft Passenger Name Record (PNR) Agreement between the EU and Canada is not compatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Charter) and may not be concluded in its current form. The Opinion follows a referral by the European Parliament to the CJEU and is the first time the Court has been requested to examine the compatibility of an international agreement with the EU Charter.

The Court observed that the Charter rights are not absolute, and that an agreement allowing for the transfer and retention of data to ensure public security would be capable of justifying even serious interference with fundamental rights such as privacy and personal data protection. Any such interference should, however, be (1) proportionate, (2) strictly necessary and (3) guided by clear and precise rules governing its scope and application. The transfer of sensitive data would also require a precise and solid justification in addition to that of public security and the Court concluded that in this instance, there was no such justification.

Retention of Data

The envisaged Agreement provided that PNR data may be retained by Canada for five years after receipt of such data. The Court observed that the retention of data for the duration of a visitor’s stay in Canada did not exceed the limits of what is strictly necessary, but noted that as PNR data would be used as part of the verification process to grant entry into the territory, subsequent use of that data would require fresh justification by way of new circumstances or objective evidence. The Court suggested that except in cases of valid urgency, any decision by Canadian authorities to use PSN data after entry has been granted should be subject to prior review by a court or independent body. The retention of data after departure from Canada should also be limited to air passengers only when there is objective evidence available inferring a terrorism or crime risk.

The Court declared that as a number of other provisions were vague and did not adequately address the processing of PNR data in a clear and precise manner, it was not satisfied that the Agreement in its current form was compatible with the Charter.

 

The Article 29 Working Party (WP29) has recently provided its Opinion 2/2017 on data processing at work. The Opinion, adopted on 8 June 2017, highlights the risks and challenges of processing employees’ personal data in light of new technologies. While the Opinion focuses on the current data protection regime, it also considers some of the obligations arising under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) from 25 May 2018.

The Opinion emphasises that despite a proliferation of new and affordable technologies that facilitate both covert and overt surveillance, fundamental principles of data protection will continue to apply. These principles include:

  • the satisfaction of a legal basis to process under Article 7 of the DPD;
  • whether the processing activity is both necessary and fair to the employee;
  • whether the processing activity is proportionate; and
  • whether the processing activity is transparent.

The WP29 reiterate that due to the imbalance between employer and employee, consent as a legal basis of processing will not be satisfactory for the majority of data processing at work. In some cases, the employer will be able to rely on contractual necessity to process personal data (such as paying the employee). The imposition of legal obligations (such as for the purpose of tax calculation) will also constitute a valid legal basis for processing. In order to rely on legitimate interests to legitimise data processing, the technology or method utilised must be necessary, proportionate and carried out in the least intrusive manner possible.

The WP29 emphasise that regardless of the legal basis for processing, a proportionality test should be undertaken prior to its commencement to consider whether the processing is necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose, as well as ensuring that any measures infringing the right to private life and secrecy of communications are limited to a minimum. This can form part of a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA).

GDPR

The WP29 comment that  the GDPR requires the most privacy friendly settings to be provided as default when an employer issues a device to an employee. The GDPR also requires a DPIA to be carried out when processing is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of employees, particularly when using new technologies. The employer must consult the supervisory authority prior to processing if these risks cannot be adequately addressed. The WP29 Opinion considers a number of data processing at work scenarios in which new technologies have the potential to result in high risks to the privacy of employees. In all such cases the WP29 highlight that the employer must consider whether the proposed processing is: (i) necessary, and if so the legal grounds that apply; (ii) fair to employees; (iii) proportionate to the concerns raised; and (iv) transparent.

The full opinion can be read here.