DPC statement on AG opinion on case # C-311/18 CJEU
19th December 2019
The DPC welcomes the publication of the AG’s opinion on case # C-311/18 CJEU. The opinion illustrates the levels of complexity associated with the kinds of issues that arise when EU data protection laws interact with the laws of third countries, to include the laws of the United States. Equally, the opening section of the opinion recognises the significant tensions that arise between, on the one hand, the need to show pragmatism, and on the other, “the need to assert the fundamental values recognised in the legal orders of the Union and its member states, and in particular, the Charter.”
Some of the points of complexity engaged here go to matters of substance. To take just three examples: does EU law apply at all when data subject’s personal data is processed by public authorities in a third country (the AG believes it does); do US laws and practices facilitate interferences with the data protection rights of individuals that are incompatible with EU law (they do, in the view of the AG); and are those problems cured by Privacy Shield (no, in the opinion of the AG).
Separately, the opinion likewise notes that, in individual cases, the standard contractual clauses likewise may not provide an answer to the problems that arise when data transfers bring EU citizens’ data within the remit of US public authorities. At this point, procedural complexities also come into view. Specifically, who should intervene when, in the context of an individual transfer, the level of protection demanded by EU law cannot be maintained? Here, whilst acknowledging its imperfections, and the practical difficulties it presents, and notwithstanding the risk of fragmentation amongst supervisory authorities within the member states, the AG concludes that the approach settled upon by the EU in the context of the SCCs strikes an appropriate balance between pragmatism and principle. That approach is one in which responsibility for ensuring the protection of the data protection rights of EU citizens rests with controllers in the first instance and, in the view of the AG, with national supervisory authorities where a controller fails to discharge its obligations.
Whilst noting that these issues are yet to be determined by the Court, the DPC welcomes the clarity of the analysis contained in the AG’s opinion.