On November 6, 2018, the French data protection authority (the “CNIL”) published a report that discusses some of the questions raised by the use of blockchain technology and perceived tensions between it and foundational principles found in the General Data Protection Regulation (the “GDPR”). As we noted in an earlier blog post on this topic, some pundits have claimed that certain features of blockchain technology, such as its reliance upon a de-centralised network and an immutable ledger, pose GDPR compliance challenges. The CNIL has attempted to address some of these concerns, at least in a tentative manner, and further guidance from EU privacy regulators can be expected in due course.
The CNIL acknowledges that EU data protection principles have been designed “in a world in which data management is centralised,” and where there is a clear controller of the data (“data controller”) and defined third parties who merely process the data (“data processors”). Applying these concepts to a de-centralised network such as blockchain, where there are a multitude of actors, leads to a “more complex definition of their role.” In brief, EU data privacy rules are the square peg to blockchain’s round hole.
Notwithstanding this, the CNIL considers that participants on a blockchain network, who have the ability to write on the chain and send data to be validated on the network, must be considered data controllers. This is the case, for instance, where the participant is registering personal data on the blockchain and it is related to a professional or commercial activity. By contrast, according to the CNIL, the miners, who validate the transactions on the blockchain network, can in certain cases be acting as data processors. As a consequence, data processing agreements would need to be in place between the data controllers and the data processors on any blockchain network.
The CNIL further considers that where there are multiple participants who decide to carry out processing activities via a blockchain network, they will most likely be considered “joint controllers,” unless they identify and designate their roles and responsibilities in advance. Individuals who use the blockchain for personal use (i.e., individuals who access the network to buy and sell a virtual currency), however, would not be data controllers as they can rely on the “purely personal or household activity” exception.
Continue Reading The CNIL Publishes Report On Blockchain and the GDPR