Nov. 1, 2020

Publications : Newsletter MAFR - Law, Compliance, Regulation

Due process and Personal Data Compliance Law: same rules, one Goal (GCEU, October 29, 2020 Order, Facebook Ireland Ltd v/ E.C.)

by Marie-Anne Frison-Roche

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Full reference: Frison-Roche, M.-A., Due process and Personal Data Compliance Law: same rules, one Goal (CJEU, Order, October 29, 2020, Facebook Ireland Ltd v/ E.C.)Newsletter MAFR - Law, Compliance, Regulation, 1st of November 2020

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Read Marie-Anne Frison-Roche's interview in Actu-juridiques about this decision (in French)

 

Summary of the news: 

As part of a procedure initiated for anti-competitive behaviors, the European Commission has three times requested, between the 13th of March and the 11th of November 2019, from Facebook the communication of information, reitarated in a decision in May 2020.  

Facebook contests it alleging that the requested documents would contain sensitive personal information that a transmission to the Commission would make accessible to a too broad number of observers, while "the documents requested under the contested decision were identified on the basis of wideranging search terms, (...) there is strong likelihood that many of those documents will not be necessary for the purposes of the Commission’s investigation". 

The contestation therefore evokes the violation of the principles of necessity and proportionality but also of due process because these probatory elements are collected without any protection and used afterwards. Moreover, Facebook invokes what would be the violation of a right to the respect of personal data of its employees whose the emails are transferred. 

The court reminds that the office of the judge is here constraint by the condition of emergency to adopt a temporary measure, acceptable by the way only if there is an imminent and irreversible damage. It underlines that public authorities benefit of a presumption of legality when they act and can obtain and use personal data since this is necessary to their function of public interest. Many allegations of Facebook are rejected as being hypothetical. 

But the Court analyzes the integrality of the evoked principles with regards with the very concrete case. But, crossing these principles and rights in question, the Court estimates that the European Commission did not respect the principle of necessity and proportionality concerning employees' very sensitive data, these demands broadening the circle of information without necessity and in a disproportionate way, since the information is very sensitive (like employees' health, political opinions of third parties, etc.). 

It is therefore appropriate to distinguish among the mass of required documents, for which the same guarantee must be given in a technique of communication than in a technic of inspection, those which are transferable without additional precaution and those which must be subject to an "alternative procedure" because of their nature of very sensitive personal data. 

This "alternative procedure" will take the shape of an examination of documents considered by Facebook as very sensitive and that it will communicate on a separate electronic support, by European Commission's agents, that we cannot a priori suspect to hijack law. This examination will take place in a "virtual data room" with Facebook's attorneys. In case of disagreement between Facebook and the investigators, the dispute could be solved by the director of information, communication and medias of the Directorate-General for Competition of the European Commission. 

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We can draw three lessons from this ordinance: 

  1. This decision shows that Procedural Law and Compliance Law are not opposed. Some often say that Compliance guarantees the efficacy and that Procedure guarantees fundamental rights, the protection of the one must result in the diminution of the guarantee of the other. It is false. As this decision shows it, through the key notion of sensitive personal data protection (heart of Compliance Law) and the care for procedure (equivalence between communication and inspection procedures; contradictory organization of the examination of sensitive personal data), we see once again that two branches of Law express the same care, have the same objective: protecting people. 
  2. The judge is able to immediately find an operational solution, proposing "an alternative procedure" axed around the principle of contradictory and conciliating Commision's and Facebook's interests has shown that it was able to bring alternative solutions to the one it suspends the execution, appropriate solution to the situation and which equilibrate the interest of both parties. 
  3. The best Ex Ante is the one which anticipate the Ex Post by the pre-constitution of evidence. Thus the firm must be able to prove later the concern that it had for human rights, here of employees, to not being exposed to sanctioning pubic authorities. This Ex Ante probatory culture is required not only from firms but also from public authorities which also have to give justification of their action. 

 

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