The UK Issues Guidance on GDPR Consent

By Nikolaos Theodorakis

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into force on 25 May 2018, replacing UK’s Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). It is yet unclear how Brexit will play out, yet in the meantime, the United Kingdom is moving to adopt the GDPR principles so that it adequately protects the personal data transferred within the EU. The GDPR sets a high standard for consent and compliance, which means that companies must start preparing for this transition.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued a guidance on GDPR consent on 2 March, explaining its recommended approach to compliance and its definition of valid consent. The ICO also provides examples and practical advice that can assist companies deciding when consent is unbiased, and when other alternatives must be sought.

The guidance’s main points on consent are:

  • Individuals should be in genuine control of consent;
  • Companies should check their existing consent practices and revise them if they do not meet the GDPR standard. Evidence of consent must be kept and reviewed regularly;
  • The only way to adequately capture consent is through an opt-in;
  • Explicit consent requires a very clear and granular statement;
  • Consent requests should be separated from other terms and conditions. Companies should avoid making consent a precondition of service;
  • Every third party who relies on the consent must be named;
  • Individuals should be able to easily withdraw consent;
  • Public authorities and employers may find using consent difficult. In cases where consent is too difficult, other lawful bases might be appropriate.

The basic notion of consent is not new. It was initially defined under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) that implemented the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which is currently in force. The GDPR builds on the standard of consent that was introduced in the DPA and includes more details and specific requirements. Consent is now defined in Article 4(11) of the GDPR in a similar way as in previous legislation, yet adding requirements of unambiguity and clear affirmative action. More provisions throughout the GDPR however relate to consent (e.g. Article 7 and recitals 32, 42 and 43), which complicates the notion of consent and what employers need to do to secure valid consent.

The ICO is running a public consultation on the draft guidance until 31 March 2017 to solicit the views of relevant stakeholders and the public. The feedback received will then be taken into account in the published version of the guidance, which is provisionally aimed for May 2017. The GDPR consent guidance can be found here, and the public consultation form here.

Other European countries have already launched relevant public consultation events:

In June 2016, the French data protection authority (“CNIL”) launched a public consultation on the GDPR. Two hundred twenty-fiv organizations participated in the public consultation and the outcome was integrated into recent guidance from the Consortium of European Data Protection Authorities. The CNIL’s report on the French public consultation is available (in French) here.

In Germany, the Interior Ministry has been drafting a proposed Data Protection Amendments and Implementation Law (Datenschutz-Anpassungs- und Umsetzungsgesetz – or “DSAnpUG”) approximately since the GDPR was passed.  The DSAnpUG implements the GDPR as well as the EU Law Enforcement Information Sharing Directive 2016/860. At present, several committees of the Upper House of Parliament (Bundesrat) are debating the draft, and a full vote of the Upper House is scheduled for March 8, 2017.

In February 2017, the Spanish Ministry of Justice launched a public consultation as a preliminary step before the drafting of a new bill implementing the GDPR.  The press release on the Spanish consultation is available (in Spanish) here.

It is important to remember that invalid consent can have severe financial consequences, apart from reputational damage. Infringements of the basic principles for processing personal data, which includes consent, are subject to the highest tier of administrative fines. This means a fine of up to 20 million Euro, or 4% of a company’s total worldwide annual turnover, whichever is higher, could be issued.

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