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Thirty-second plenary session: Statement on the interoperability of contact tracing applications, statement on the opening of borders and data protection rights, response letters to MEP Körner on laptop camera covers and encryption and letter

During its 32nd plenary session, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted a statement on the interoperability of contact tracing apps, as well as a statement on the opening of borders and data protection rights. The Board also adopted two letters to MEP Körner - on encryption and on Article 25 European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) - and a letter to CEAOB on PCAOB arrangements.

The EDPB adopted a statement on the interoperability of contact tracing applications, building on the EDPB Guidelines 04/2020 on the use of location data and contact tracing tools in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. The statement offers a more in-depth analysis of key aspects, including transparency, legal basis, controllership, data subject rights, data retention and minimisation, information security and data accuracy in the context of creating an interoperable network of applications, that need to be considered on top of those highlighted in the EDPB Guidelines 04/2020.

The EDPB emphasises that the sharing of data about individuals that have been diagnosed or tested positively with such interoperable applications should only be triggered by a voluntary action of the user. Giving data subjects information and control will increase their trust in the solutions and their potential uptake. The goal of interoperability should not be used as an argument to extend the collection of personal data beyond what is necessary.

Moreover, contact tracing apps need to be part of a comprehensive public health strategy to fight the pandemic, such as testing and subsequent manual contact tracing for the purpose of improving effectiveness of the performed measures.

Ensuring interoperability is not only technically challenging and sometimes impossible without disproportionate trade-offs, but also leads to a potential increased data protection risk. Therefore, controllers need to ensure measures are effective and proportionate and must assess whether a less intrusive alternative can achieve the same purpose.

The EDPB adopted a statement on the processing of personal data in the context of reopening the Schengen borders following the COVID-19 outbreak. The measures allowing a safe reopening of the borders currently envisaged or implemented by Member States include testing for COVID-19, requiring certificates issued by health professionals and the use of a voluntary contact tracing app. Most measures involve processing of personal data.

The EDPB recalls that data protection legislation remains applicable and allows for an efficient response to the pandemic, while at the same time protecting fundamental rights and freedoms. The EDPB stresses that the processing of personal data must be necessary and proportionate, and the level of protection should be consistent throughout the EEA. In the statement, the EDPB urges the Member States to take a common European approach when deciding which processing of personal data is necessary in this context.

The statement also addresses the GDPR principles that Member States need to pay special attention to when processing personal data in the context of reopening the border. These include lawfulness, fairness and transparency, purpose limitation, data minimisation, storage limitation, security of data and data protection by design and by default. Moreover, the decision to allow the entrance into a country should not only be based on the automated individual decision making technologies. In any case, such decisions should be subject to suitable safeguards, which should include specific information to the data subject and the right to obtain human intervention, to express his or her point of view, to obtain an explanation of the decision reached after such assessment and to challenge the decision. Automated individual decision measures should not apply to children.

Finally, the EDPB highlights the importance of a prior consultation with competent national supervisory authorities when Member States intend to process personal data in this context.

The EDPB adopted a response to a letter from MEP Moritz Körner on the relevance of encryption bans in third countries for assessing the level of data protection when personal data are transferred to countries where these bans exist. According to the EDPB, any ban on encryption or provisions weakening encryption would seriously undermine compliance with GDPR security obligations applicable to controllers and processors, be that in a third country or in the EEA. Security measures are one of the elements the European Commission must take into account when assessing the adequacy of the level of protection in a third country.

A second letter to MEP Körner addresses the topic of laptop camera covers. MEP Körner highlighted that this technology could help comply with the GDPR and suggested new laptops should be equipped with it. In its reply, the Board clarifies that while laptop manufacturers should be encouraged to take into account the right to data protection when developing and designing such products, they are not responsible for the processing carried out with those products and the GDPR does not establish legal obligations for manufacturers, unless they also act as controllers or processors. Controllers must evaluate the risks of each processing and choose the appropriate safeguards to comply with GDPR, including the privacy by design and by default enshrined in Article 25 GDPR.

Finally, the EDPB adopted a letter to the Committee of European Auditor Oversight Bodies (CEAOB). The EDPB received a proposal from the CEAOB, which gathers the national auditor oversight bodies at EU level, to cooperate and receive feedback on negotiations of draft administrative arrangements for the transfer of data to the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). The EDPB welcomes this proposal and indicates that it is available to hold an exchange with the CEAOB to clarify any potential questions on data protection requirements related to such arrangements in light of the EDPB Guidelines 2/2020 on Art. 46 (2) (a) and 46 (3) (b) GDPR for transfers of personal data between EEA and non-EEA public authorities. The exchange could also involve the PCAOB if the CEAOB and its members deem it beneficial for their work on these arrangements.

The agenda of the 32nd plenary is available here

Note to editors:
Please note that all documents adopted during the EDPB Plenary are subject to the necessary legal, linguistic and formatting checks and will be made available on the EDPB website once these have been completed.