Consent is only one of the six legal grounds for processing personal data under the GDPR, but it is certainly the most well-known. While it might look safe and solid at first sight, it is becoming the weakest link of the GDPR compliance chain.

First, consent can be withdrawn at any time, and the process

On October 1, 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a final ruling in the Planet49 case (case C-673/17 – available here).

Following a request for preliminary ruling from the German Federal Court of Justice, the Bundesgerichtshof, the CJEU interpreted the consent requirement of Directive 2002/58/EC, as amended by Directive 2009/136/EC (hereafter the “e-Privacy Directive”) in light of former Directive 95/46/EU (hereafter the “Data Protection Directive”) as well as in light of its successor – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The Court made it clear that the placing and reading of tracking cookies on a user’s terminal equipment requires an active and unambiguous consent of the user. A pre-ticked checkbox does not meet these requirements and therefore does not constitute a valid consent. Also, the Court underlined that consent must be specific. In the case at hand, the act of selecting a button to participate in a promotional online lottery cannot be construed as consent of the user to the storage of cookies.

Moreover, the Court clarified that these requirements regarding the consent of the user for usage of cookies are applicable regardless of whether the information stored or consulted on the user’s device constitutes “personal data.”

Finally, the Court held that cookie consent must be “informed” as per the GDPR, which means that service providers must also provide information on the duration of the operation of cookies, as well as in relation to any third party access to those cookies.

The facts


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Executive summary

On September 17, 2019, the Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) issued a fine of EUR 10,000 for a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation’s (GDPR). The case related to a merchant who required the use of an electronic identity card as the sole means for the issuance of loyalty cards.

The DPA found that this practice did not comply with GDPR’s standards on (a) data minimization, as the electronic identity card contains much more information about the holder than is necessary for the purposes of creating a loyalty card; and (b) consent, because customers were not offered a real choice on whether they should provide access to the data on their electronic identity card in exchange for a loyalty card. As a result, the customers’ consent was not considered as freely given and therefore invalid.

The DPA also found that the merchant had not done enough to inform customer about its data processing activities, and thereby violated its information duties under the GDPR.

The facts


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On 29 July 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a decision in the Fashion ID case, a case referred to it by a German court. In this blog post we will focus on what this case means with regard to joint controllership when you have social media plug-ins on your

The European Union’s (“EU”) General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) turned one year old on May 25th. European data protection regulators celebrated by continuing to work through a rising number of complaints and infractions, and by stepping up their monitoring for violations. US companies are directly in the crosshairs. Whether based in the EU or not, a company is potentially subject to the GDPR (and its stiff fines up to 4% of annual global revenue) if it offers goods or services to data subjects located in the EU, or monitors individuals’ online behavior or personal information in the EU. This means that a US company engaged in the common business practice of collecting data from its EU customers must assess and implement business practices to ensure GDPR compliance.

The US and EU engaged in approximately $1.3 trillion dollars in trade last year. With that level of economic activity, and accompanying data flows, many US companies should already have in place the basic structures for GDPR compliance. However, recent surveys suggest that a significant number of companies impacted by the GDPR are still grappling with compliance. In a recent Forrester Research study, “Security Through Simplicity,” over half of the responding IT decision-makers revealed that their companies had not yet carried out even basic GDPR compliance steps such as vetting third-party vendors, hiring data protection officers, training employees, setting up mechanisms for the “72-hour data breach notification” requirement, and collecting evidence and documenting efforts to address GDPR compliance risks. Further, only about 4,650 US companies are currently registered and self-certified with the EU-US Privacy Shield framework (compared to the over 100,000 mid- to large-sized companies in the US, according to business census data). Such certification goes a long way toward permitting a US company to receive certain EU data in a GDPR compliant manner.


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When the European Commission re-approved the Privacy Shield agreement during its first annual review in the fall of 2017, permitting the transatlantic transfer of personal information to compliant U.S. companies to continue, it did so with a number of reservations. As the Privacy Shield agreement fast approaches its second annual review at the end of this week, it remains to be seen if the steps taken by the U.S. government at the close of the summer will be enough to satisfy skeptical European lawmakers.

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The European Commission has recently released a new website providing guidance on the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) implementation requirements.  The website provides a plethora of resources both to industry looking to become compliant with GDPR standards as well as to citizens looking to understand their data protection rights.  Highlights of the website include a

Kansas Judge Rules that Class Action over CareCentrix Data Breach may Proceed

On December 19, 2016, in Hapka v. Carecentrix, the United States District Court for the District of Kansas denied CareCentrix, Inc.’s (CareCentrix) motion to dismiss a class action suit arising from a data breach affecting CareCentrix’s personal and tax information regarding thousands of employees.  The Court found that plaintiff Sarah Hapka, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, met the Article III standing requirements and sufficiently alleged a claim upon which relief could be granted.

Hapka claimed that in February 2016, an unauthorized person posed as one of CareCentrix’s employees and emailed a request for current and former employees’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Wage and Tax Statements (W-2 Forms). One of CareCentrix’s employees complied with the request, providing the W-2 Forms which included employees’ names, addresses, birth dates, wages, and Social Security Numbers.  Hapka alleged that shortly after this data breach, she received a letter from the IRS indicating that someone filed a fraudulent tax return in her name.  She later brought the underlying putative class action claiming that CareCentrix negligently permitted the data breach and that she and the class of plaintiffs will suffer imminent and certain impending injury of fraud and identity theft.

CareCentrix conceded that Hapka suffered some form of actual, concrete injury due to the filing of a false tax return. However, it argued that the other allegations of injury—the impending costs of countering the current tax fraud and heightened risk for future identify theft—are too speculative to meet the Article III standing bar set by the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which required plaintiffs to show an invasion of a legally protected interest and allege a concrete injury.  The Court rejected CareCentrix’s attempt to look at the plaintiff’s alleged injuries in a vacuum, stating that “[t]he fact that her stolen information has been used once has a direct impact on the plausibility of future harm.” Although the Court acknowledged that federal courts have disagreed about whether an alleged increased risk of identity theft is a sufficient injury to meet standing requirements, it followed the line of cases finding standing because the plaintiffs suffered from identity theft after a data breach.  Ultimately, the Court held that the plaintiffs met standing requirements.

The Court further rejected CareCentrix’s claim that Hapka failed to adequately plead the negligence claim because it did not have a statutory duty of care regarding employee information, and that plaintiff failed to allege any common-law duty. The Court found that identification of a statutory duty was unnecessary, and that the allegations that the harm was foreseeable established a common-law duty to exercise reasonable care.

This case further highlights how the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo earlier this year has produced varied results in breach litigation.  The Kansas Court acknowledged the split among federal courts on standing requirements, but effectively avoided ruling on the issue since Hapka actually suffered injury due to the filing of a false tax return.  If the plaintiffs did not have this example demonstrating that a concrete injury had in fact occurred, it is questionable whether the Kansas Court would have decided to deny CareCentrix’s dismissal motion on standing grounds.


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Hospital pays $2.1MM HIPAA settlement; Dynamic IP addresses protected under EU laws; EU guidance on GDPR coming soon; California’s new privacy compliance tool; banking regulators consider cybersecurity; FCC privacy proposal comments; OMB’s new privacy office; DFARS finalizes Safeguarding Rule

Hospital pays $2.1M to settle alleged HIPAA violations

St. Joseph Health, a California-based health system, reached

HHS Jumps on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Bandwagon; Third Circuit on Economic Loss as a basis for Negligence Claim; FTC workshop on Ransomware; German draft implementing law for GDPR revealed.

HHS Jumps on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Bandwagon

Because of recent news reports confirming that cyberattacks against healthcare agencies have increased 125 % in the past five years, HHS is encouraging HIPAA Covered Entities and Business Associates to share information to combat future attacks.

HHS, based on authority from Executive Order 13591 and the Cybersecurity Information Security Act (CISA), is urging Covered Entities and Business Associates to join Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (ISAOs) to share security threat and vulnerability information related to electronic protected health information (ePHI).

Ideally, ISAOs will provide a mechanism for sharing information bi-directionally “between HHS and the Health Care and Public Health (HPH) sector regarding cyber threats and will also provide outreach and education to the HPH sector.” This press release from HHS follows a similar measure by the Department of Homeland Security, which also encourages information sharing to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks.

In developing ISAOs in the health care sector, it is critical to consider three things:

  • the standards and best practices for the creation of ISAOs to ensure that covered entities and business associates that participate gain the protections of such information sharing under CISA;
  • the data that is shared in light of what is permitted under the HIPAA Privacy Rule; and
  • how participation in an ISAO can support compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule.

Crowell & Moring is a leading expert in the creation of ISAOs and HIPAA compliance and can help stakeholders that seek to comply with HHS’s call to action to consider the intersection of these various legal frameworks


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