Digital Law Up(to)date: Belgian DPA fines NGO and researcher for GDPR violations regarding the political profiling of tweets
The Belgian Data Protection Authority (the “DPA”) fined an NGO and a researcher both active in the fight against disinformation (decision 13/2022 of 27 January 2022, available in French here). It concludes that a study aimed at identifying the political origin of tweets related to the French Benalla affair and the publication of files containing personal data violate GDPR provisions.
In the study, the NGO and the researcher re-used personal data from 55,000 Twitter accounts. The DPA recalls that personal data available on social networks are within the scope of protection of the GDPR.
As a data controller, one of the GDPR requirements is the provision of information on data processing to data subjects. In the present case, this obligation is not met. However, the DPA considers that the exception contained in article 14(5)(b) is applicable: providing such information in advance would have seriously impaired the scientific purpose of the processing.
The re-use of the data used for the study also resulted in their publication without pseudonymisation and in without any legal basis. The DPA considers that the infringement of the rights of the authors of the tweets is disproportionate, as they did not consent to the publication of their data without previous pseudonymisation.
Finally, the DPA finds that the publication of the raw data extracted from the Twitter accounts is problematic. It underlines that there is no bad intention: the publication is intended to justify the integrity of the study. However, the raw data can discriminate or discredit given the political profiling carried out in a non-anonymised way. In addition, data relating to religious beliefs and sexual orientation were published. According to the DPA, this publication of data violates several key principles of the GDPR (lawfulness, transparency, data security).
This article was co-authored by Edouard Cruysmans in his capacity of Professional Support Lawyer at Stibbe.