On April 17, 2020, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”) issued an opinion on the recently announced Apple-Google initiative to develop a Bluetooth-based Contact Tracing Framework (“CTF”) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  The ICO opinion is generally supportive of the Apple-Google proposal and perceives it to be, at this early phase, aligned with principles of data protection by design and by default.  The ICO also cautions that since apps developed under the CTF could also be used to collect additional data using other techniques beyond those currently planned, developers of such apps must ensure compliance with data protection laws.

Continue Reading UK ICO Issues Opinion on Apple-Google Initiative for a Contact Tracing Framework

On 8 April 2020, the European Commission adopted a recommendation on a common European Union toolbox for the use of technology and data to address the COVID-19 crisis (“Recommendation”).  The Recommendation responds to calls for a common EU approach to the use of mobile apps in combatting COVID-19—one that improves the efficacy of the technology while respecting citizens’ privacy rights.

The Recommendation has since been complemented by a separate Commission guidance paper on COVID-19 apps (“Guidance”) and release of a Common EU Toolbox for Member States (“Toolbox”) by the EU’s eHealth Network, a Commission-established body comprised of Member State authorities responsible for eHealth matters.   In addition, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”), which contributed to the Guidance, has published a letter to the Commission in response to the Guidance (“Letter”).

This blog will discuss the headline points contained within the Recommendation, Guidance, Toolbox, and Letter.  We will publish more detailed analyses of the Toolbox and Guidance in subsequent blogs.


Continue Reading EU Commission Releases Guidance on COVID-19 Apps

On April 7, 2020, the European Data Protection Board (“EDPB”) announced that it assigned specific mandates to two expert subgroups to prepare guidance on a number of Covid-19 related topics. The list of topics chosen by the EDPB reflects those that have received the closest scrutiny by the national authorities.
Continue Reading EDPB will issue data protection guidance on several topics relating to COVID-19

The Federal Trade Commission has traditionally responded forcefully to public health and economic crises, and it is doing so again in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  The current crisis does present some additional complications, however, because of its impact on the operations of the agency itself.  Three particular aspects of the FTC’s consumer protection-related response stand out: (1) continuation of the agency’s scrutiny of false and deceptive product claims that seek to capitalize on the fears of consumers, (2) signs that the agency will work with businesses to accommodate the special pressures of the crisis, and (3) continuation but postponement of other, non-enforcement activities.

The FTC’s first consumer protection priority in response to the coronavirus pandemic has been to focus on especially egregious marketing scams that target particularly vulnerable populations.  The FTC has already issued a number of warning letters to sellers of supposed COVID-19 cures ranging from tea to edible silver and to voice over internet protocol (“VoIP”) service providers facilitating illegal coronavirus-related calls.  Fraud reports continue to rise rapidly: the FTC has received 7,800 coronavirus-related complaints this year, and almost half of these were filed in the last week.
Continue Reading The FTC’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: Consumer Protection Priorities and Initial Actions

On April 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued a Notification of Enforcement Discretion (the “Notification”) regarding the disclosure of protected health information (“PHI”) to public health authorities and use of PHI to perform analytics for such authorities.  Designed to “facilitate uses and disclosures for public health and health oversight activities during this nationwide public health emergency,” the Notification relaxes HHS’s enforcement of certain provisions of the Privacy Rule issued  under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”).  More specifically, the Notification announces that, under certain circumstances, HHS will not impose penalties for violations of such provisions against covered health care providers and their business associates for the use and disclosure of PHI “by business associates for public health and health oversight activities” in connection with the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.
Continue Reading HHS Seeks to Facilitate Certain Uses and Disclosures of Health Data to Public Health and Health Oversight Agencies Amidst COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency

Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing Initiative

According to media sources, an EU consortium led by Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute for telecoms (HHI) will soon release software code that can be used to create apps that will help track transmission chains of COVID-19.  The Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing (“PEPP-PT”) project comprises more than 130 members across eight European countries, including scientists, technologists, and experts.

The PEPP-PT project has published a manifesto explaining its intention to create “well-tested proximity tracking technologies” that national authorities can use to create their own COVID-19 apps.  According to the manifesto, these technologies ensure “secure data anonymization” and “cross border interoperability”.  The apps concerned would inform users, based on the phone’s Bluetooth signals, whether they have been in the proximity of a person who was tested positive for COVID-19.

National public authorities developing apps on the basis of this software remain free to decide how to inform persons that have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.  The PEPP-PT website states that national cyber security agencies and national data protection agencies will assess the apps that are created using the code released by the PEPP-PT.  EU Commissioner Thierry Breton indicated that the European Commission is also investigating whether an app using the PEPP-PT software would be compliant with “EU values”, reflecting the privacy concerns associated with such apps.
Continue Reading COVID-19 Apps and Websites – The “Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing Initiative” and Guidance by Supervisory Authorities

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, several U.S. government entities have released warnings about a rise in scams and fraudulent activity connected to the outbreak.  In a recent bulletin, the FBI warned of a rise in phishing emails, counterfeit treatments or equipment for COVID-19 preparedness, and fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purporting to provide information about the outbreak.  The FTC, meanwhile, has released not only a general overview of the steps that it is taking to combat scams related to COVID-19, but has also provided a specific list of seven types of COVID-19 scams that it has observed targeting businesses.  More information about these scams, and guidance from the FBI and FTC on how to protect against and respond to some of the most common risks, is below.
Continue Reading COVID-19 Cybersecurity Advice: FTC and FBI Provide Guidance on Cybersecurity Scam Trends and Preventive Measures

On 18 March, 2020, the Hellenic (Greek) Data Protection Authority (“HDPA”) issued guidelines on data protection and COVID-19. With these guidelines, the HDPA aims to provide guidance on the interpretation and application of data protection legislation during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog, we summarise the key points included in the HDPA’s guidelines.

  1. Categorization of personal data

The HDPA draws the following distinction with respect to the types of personal data:

  • data concerning the health status of an identified or identifiable natural person (“data subject”), including whether the data subject has received health care recently, is data concerning the health of the data subject, and, therefore, falls within the special categories of personal data (under Article 9 of General Data Protection Regulation – “GDPR”), which are subject to stricter protection. Examples of types of data related to the health of the data subject include data concerning i) whether the data subject has been infected by the virus or not, ii) whether he or she remains at home due to illness and iii) whether he or she has presented any signs of illness (g., cough, fever);
  • in contrast, other personal data, such as information regardingthe data subject’s recent visits to a foreign country with a high number of COVID-19 cases, or whether one of the data subject’s relatives or colleagues has been infected by COVID-19, does not constitute data related to the health of the data subject. As a result, such data does not fall within the special categories of personal data.


Continue Reading Greek Data Protection Authority Issues Guidelines on Data Protection and Coronavirus

This month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued guidance waiving enforcement of certain provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) in response to the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.
Continue Reading HHS Relaxes Enforcement of Certain HIPAA Provisions Amidst COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency

In order to combat the proliferation of COVID-1, several EU Member States have strongly recommended or required that employees engage in teleworking, rather than attend work as normal. In this context, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (“ENISA”), on March 15, 2020, issued its “top tips for cybersecurity when working remotely”. Some data protection Supervisory