How German Data Protection Authorities interpret the GDPR

The German Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) have published three papers with their interpretation of certain Articles of the forthcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (Paper 1, Paper 2, Paper 3; all in German). In sum, the views of the DPAs are not very surprising. However, this is the first time that all German authorities speak with one voice concerning the interpretation of the GDPR.

The papers cover the following topics:

Paper 1: Records of processing activities

Paper 2: Powers of DPAs and sanctions

Paper 3: Processing of personal data for marketing purposes

In the first paper the DPAs explain the obligation of Art. 30 GDPR. The DPAs note that the record of processing activities must be kept by the controller and (this is new) by the data processor. Furthermore, the DPAs highlight that the record must be made available to the supervisory authority on request. Keeping this record does not suffice to fulfill all documentation obligations under the GDPR. The DPAs point to Art. 5 para 2 GDPR and for example the obligation in Art. 24 para 1 GDPR, according to which the controller must be able to demonstrate that processing is performed in accordance with the GDPR.

In the second paper the DPAs shed some light on their interpretation of Art. 58 and Art. 83 GDPR. The DPAs explain that besides making use of an investigative or corrective power according to Art. 58 GDPR, the authorities may take action against a controller or processor and issue fines according to Art. 83 GDPR. In the view of the DPAs, the term “undertaking” in Art. 83 para 4, 5 and 6 GDPR must be interpreted broader than the definition of “enterprise” in Art. 4 (18) GDPR. The DPAs refer to Recital 150 GDPR to justify this understanding. Recital 150 GDPR specifies that “an undertaking should be understood to be an undertaking in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 TFEU”. This is a reference to the broad definition of “undertaking” in antitrust and competition law by the ECJ. The concept of an undertaking encompasses every entity engaged in an economic activity regardless of the legal status of the entity and the way in which it is financed.

This means that according to the German DPAs “undertaking” in Art. 83 GDPR does not only encompass one single undertaking but also a group of undertakings.

One may of course oppose this view with good arguments, since the notion of “group of undertakings” is legally defined in Art. 4 (19) GDPR but explicitly not used in Art. 83 GDPR.

In the third paper the German DPAs turn to questions of the processing of personal data for marketing purposes. According to the DPAs, under the GDPR the processing for marketing purposes will mainly be based on Art. 6 para 1 (f) GDPR and therefore require the weighing of interests (of course, consent is also another possible legal basis). The DPAs specifically refer to Recital 47 GDPR which explains that “the processing of personal data for direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for a legitimate interest”. Furthermore, data controllers must take note of the requirement established in Recital 47 that “the reasonable expectations of data subjects” must be taken into consideration. The DPAs highlight that it is not clear when these reasonable expectations are actually rightly taken into account. However, the DPAs explain that information will play a crucial role for data controllers in order to shape the “reasonable expectations”. According to the DPAs, if the controller informs the data subjects in a clear and transparent manner about the marketing purpose of the processing, the reasonable expectation of the natural person will expect this kind of processing. But the DPAs also mention the right of data subjects to object at any time to processing of personal data for marketing (Art. 21 para 2 GDPR). Furthermore, special categories of personal data (Art. 9 GDPR) may only be processed for marketing purposes if valid consent has been obtained, since Art. 9 GDPR does not foresee a possibility like Art. 6 para 1 (f) GDPR. Lastly, the DPAs rightly refer to special rules for e-mail marketing. According to Sec. 7 of the Act Against Unfair Competition (transposing Art. 13 of Directive 2002/58/EC), marketing via e-mail requires consent except where a company obtains from its customers their electronic contact details for electronic mail in the context of the sale of a product or a service, uses the electronic contact details for direct marketing of its own similar products or services and provided that customers clearly and distinctly are given the opportunity to object.




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