On April 23rd, 2013, the French data protection authority (the “CNIL”) unveiled its 2012 Annual Activity Report (the “Report”). The CNIL’s Report gives an overview of the actions and initiatives undertaken in the past year, and is also a good indicator for what to expect in the coming year.
The CNIL has adopted a three-year strategic orientation program for the period 2012-2015. This action plan sets out three priorities, namely:
- To adopt a policy of openness and consultation towards stakeholders ;
- To raise the level of awareness among data controllers (particularly companies) and to help them develop tools that allow them to implement the data protection principles; and
- To increase the level of compliance through a more targeted and efficient enforcement policy.
Focusing on the CNIL’s enforcement strategy, the summary below highlights some of the key points in the CNIL’s Report:
- Complaints: The number of complaints has risen to 6000 in 2012. 46% of complaints concerned the right to object to the data processing. The constant rise of complaints over the past years indicates that citizens are more and more aware of their data protection rights and are taking action more frequently. The telecoms/internet sector appears to have triggered most of the complaints (31%).
- Inspections: The CNIL conducted 458 on-site inspections in 2012, which represents a 19% increase compared to 2011. 285 of the inspections were carried out in the context of the Data Protection Act, while 173 inspections concerned the use of videosurveillance equipment. With regard to the Data Protection Act, 23% of the inspections were triggered by complaints and another 26% were initiated by events picked up in the news. This shows that the CNIL often takes action when a particular event or situation makes the headlines. 40% of the inspections are in line with the priorities set out by the CNIL in its annual inspection’s plan, which shows some consistency in how the CNIL operates within a particular sector or business activity.
- Sanctions: In 2012, the CNIL served 43 formal notices asking data controllers to comply. In most of the cases, the CNIL did not pronounce any sanction because the data controller had complied. In total, the CNIL pronounced 13 sanctions, eight of which were made public. The publicity of the sanction follows a recent amendment of the Data Protection Act, which authorizes the CNIL to publish the sanction it pronounces. In the majority of cases, the sanction pronounced was a simple warning (56%), while fines were pronounced in only 25% of the cases. The CNIL pronounced only one injunction to cease the processing. The low number of fines can be explained by the fact they do not have a very deterrent effect for companies in France (by law, the maximum fine for a first violation is EUR 150,000). On the contrary, a warning can cause serious reputational damage to the data controller, particularly when it is made public, which may explain why the CNIL has chosen to publish its sanctions in 60% of the cases.
- Videosurveillance: In 2012, the CNIL carried out over 170 inspections of videosurveillance systems. In this context, the CNIL received more than 300 complaints, 75% of which concerned the use of video cameras at the workplace. The CNIL notes a lack of clarity surrounding the current legal framework for videosurveillance measures, the insufficient or inexistent information of individuals, the inappropriate use of cameras, and insufficient security measures. In 2012, the CNIL published six practical guidebooks, explaining how to use video cameras in compliance with the law.
- Data breach notifications: Following the implementation of the revised ePrivacy directive into French law, the CNIL received the first notifications for data breaches in the telecoms sector. While the total number of notifications for 2012 remains fairly low, the CNIL expects to receive more notifications in the coming year.
It is also worth noting that the CNIL’s budget and manpower have also increased in 2012. As the years pass by, the CNIL continues to grow and to become more resourceful. It is also more experienced and better organized. Thus, data controllers should pay close attention to the actions of the CNIL as it becomes a most powerful authority in France and within the European Union.
The CNIL’s 2012 Annual Activity Report is available (in French) at www.cnil.fr