Articles

Part one - GDPR and Public Law: Applicability of GDPR to public bodies

Part one -GDPR and public law - Applicability of GDPR to public bodies

Part one - GDPR and Public Law: Applicability of GDPR to public bodies

21.05.2019 EU law

Since the GDPR became applicable almost one year ago, multiple questions have arisen about its interaction with other fields of law. In this three-part blog series of “GDPR and Public Law”, we discuss three relevant issues of the interaction of GDPR with public law and government. In this blog we discuss the applicability of GDPR to public bodies.

1. “Public authority” under GDPR

In principle, GDPR equally applies to private and public entities. This is reflected in the definitions of “data controller” and “data processor”, which both refer to “the natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other body…”.

Yet, the scope of the concept of “public authority” is important since some specific deviating provisions apply to public authorities. However, the GDPR does not define “public authority”, leaving this to the Member States. Article 5 of the Belgian Act of 30 July 2018 on processing of personal data (hereinafter “Belgian Data Protection Act”) defines “public authorities” under GDPR as (i) entities subject to the Belgian act of 17 June 2016 on public procurement as well as (ii) legal persons governed by public law and depending on the state. The relevance of this second category is rather limited, since most of these entities are already covered by the first category. In any event, it is interesting to note that the legislator defined “public authority” very broadly, also covering hospitals, mutualities, universities, etc.

2. Specific provisions for public authorities

Various specific provisions apply for public authorities. For example, they must appoint a data protection officer (“DPO”) regardless of the risk of the processing itself (Article 37 GDPR). Furthermore, they cannot rely on their legitimate interests for processing of personal data in the performance of their tasks (Article 6 GDPR).[1] Also, specific provisions apply for authorities that prevent, investigate, detect or prosecute criminal offences or execute criminal penalties (see Directive 2016/680 and the Belgian Data Protection Act).

Most importantly, Article 83 §7 GDPR allows Member States to lay down rules on whether and to what extent administrative fines may be imposed on public authorities and bodies established in that Member State. Article 221 §2 of the Belgian Data Protection Act implements this provision, and states that the administrative fines under the GDPR do not apply to public authorities and their employees or agents, except in case of a legal person governed by public law that offers goods or services on a market. As a result, public authorities are largely exempt from administrative fines, but not from criminal sanctions, other administrative corrective measures (e.g. reprimands, orders, etc.) and judicial review. Whether administrative fines apply, therefore depends on the capacity in which a public authority is operating, with administrative fines remaining applicable for public authorities competing with private actors.

The Federation of Belgian Enterprises (Verbond van Belgische Ondernemingen Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique) has filed an application for annulment with the Constitutional Court, claiming that this Article 221 §2 amounts to an unjustified discrimination. The Council of State previously stated that the repressive measures in the public sector should be at least comparable to those in the private sector.[2] It nevertheless acknowledged a risk of jeopardizing the continuity of public services if fines of up to EUR 20 million can be imposed on the public sector. Therefore it finds specific maxima ceilings for the public sector acceptable. The Belgian Data Protection Authority preferred equal treatment in terms of enforcement in its Opinion, considering that a difference would be difficult to justify.[3] A ruling by the Constitutional Court is expected in 2020.

To be continued …

 

Footnotes:

  1. Nevertheless, Article 6, para. 1, (e) GDPR provides a specific lawful basis for such processing, i.e.: “processing necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller”.
  2. Opinion no. 63.192/2 of 19 April 2018, http://www.raadvst-consetat.be/dbx/adviezen/63192.pdf.
  3. Opinion no. 33/2018 of 11 April 2018, https://www.gegevensbeschermingsautoriteit.be/sites/privacycommission/files/documents/advies_33_2018.pdf.

Team

Related news

14.10.2021 NL law
Termijn voor het indienen vaststellingsaanvraag NOW-1 loopt af op 31 oktober 2021: strategische handreikingen en juridische aanbevelingen

Short Reads - Op 31 oktober 2021 is het de laatste dag waarop de vaststellingsaanvragen van de NOW-1 subsidie kunnen worden ingediend. Veel werkgevers hebben deze aanvraag al ingediend (en al een vaststellingsbesluit ontvangen) maar ook een aanzienlijk deel van de vaststellingsaanvragen moet nog door het UWV worden ontvangen (zie de Kamerbrief van 20 september 2021). 

Read more

13.10.2021 NL law
FAQ: Hoe een begrip uit te leggen als een definitie of andere uitleg ervan in de wettelijke regeling ontbreekt?

Short Reads - Hoe een begrip uit te leggen als een definitie of andere uitleg ervan in de wettelijke regeling ontbreekt? Deze vraag komt meer dan eens aan de orde in geschillen en procedures. De Afdeling bestuursrechtspraak van de Raad van State beantwoordt deze vraag onder meer in een uitspraak over pleziervaartuigen en woonschepen in de jachthaven te Kaag (25 augustus 2021, ECLI:NL:RVS:2021:1897).

Read more

07.10.2021 NL law
Commission’s record fine for gun jumping upheld

Short Reads - Pre-closing covenants protecting the target’s value or commercial integrity pending merger clearance from the European Commission must be drafted carefully. The General Court confirmed the Commission’s record-breaking fines on Altice for violating the EU Merger Regulation’s notification and standstill obligations. According to the General Court, the mere possibility of exercising decisive influence over the target can result in a gun jumping breach.

Read more

13.10.2021 NL law
De hardheidsclausule en ander maatwerk in het licht van de NOW

Short Reads - Uitzonderingen op de NOW zijn volgens de bestuursrechter niet mogelijk door het bewust ontbreken van een hardheidsclausule, maar worden door de minister in bepaalde gevallen wel toegestaan. In dit artikel bespreekt Sandra Putting welke mogelijkheden bestuursorganen en de bestuursrechter hebben om maatwerk te bieden en wordt aan de hand van drie geschilpunten over de NOW beoordeeld hoe die mogelijkheden zijn ingezet of beter hadden kunnen worden ingezet.

Read more