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ECJ ruling on the GDPR: Consequences and recommendations for action for companies processing personal data

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has fundamentally changed the way companies handle personal data. It has set new standards for transparency, accountability and individual rights in relation to the processing of personal data. A recent ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Case C-300/21, clarified some important aspects of the GDPR. This ruling dealt in particular with the conditions for claims for damages in the event of breaches of the GDPR. It thus provides important clarification and guidance for companies that process personal data. In the ever-evolving digital landscape, it is critical that companies understand the current legal framework and rulings in order to meet their obligations and maintain the trust of their customers.

The ECJ ruling C-300/21: What is at stake?

The case concerns Austrian Post, which collected information on the political preferences of the Austrian population without the explicit consent of the persons concerned. It used an algorithm to define target group addresses and deduce that a particular citizen might have a high affinity for a particular political party. This practice constituted a violation of the General Data Protection Regulation, as the data were collected and processed without the explicit consent of the data subject. A citizen whose data was used in this way felt that his rights had been violated. He claimed to have suffered immaterial damage in the form of annoyance, loss of confidence and a feeling of being exposed as a result of this data processing and demanded compensation of 1,000 euros.

Claims for damages and the GDPR: What does the ruling say?

The ECJ ruling stated that a claim for damages is subject to three cumulative conditions: a breach of the GDPR, resulting material or immaterial damage, and a causal link between the damage and the breach. Not every breach of the GDPR automatically leads to a claim for damages. Moreover, the non-material damage does not have to reach a certain level of severity to constitute a claim for damages.

The relevance of the ECJ ruling for companies

This ruling is of great importance for companies, as it clearly defines the framework for possible claims for damages in the event of violations of the GDPR. It clarifies that not every breach of the GDPR automatically leads to a claim for damages, but that there must be a direct causal link between the breach and any resulting material or immaterial damage. In addition, the ruling underscores the need for companies to adhere to strict data protection practices to ensure compliance with the GDPR and avoid potential legal consequences.

The decision also sets a precedent for other similar proceedings, including those that could affect large tech companies like Facebook. It provides a legal basis for future cases in which users wish to claim damages for violations of the GDPR. It is therefore very likely that this ruling will be used as a reference in future court proceedings and in the assessment of data protection violations. It should therefore serve as a wake-up call for all companies that process personal data to review their data protection practices and ensure that they respect the rights of data subjects

Consequences of action for companies that process personal data

Companies that process personal data should take this ruling as an opportunity to review their data protection practices and make any necessary adjustments. A key recommendation is to implement mechanisms to review and update data processing consents. It is essential to keep data subjects’ consent up to date while communicating clearly and understandably how their data will be used.

Furthermore, companies should design their processes to identify and document any potential negative impact of their data processing activities on individuals. This is of great importance, as the ruling underlines that a direct causal link between the infringement and damage must be proven in order to claim damages.

In addition, the introduction of a comprehensive and easily accessible complaints and redress procedure could be beneficial. This should allow affected individuals to raise concerns and claim compensation if they believe their rights have been violated. Companies should also consider that the level of transparency they provide to affected individuals can have a direct impact on their trust and satisfaction. It is therefore advisable to communicate proactively and openly about data protection practices and to promote a culture of data protection responsibility.

Preventive measures for companies in handling personal data

To avoid future breaches of the GDPR and potential claims for damages, companies should take a number of preventive measures:

  1. Increase awareness and training: Employees should be regularly trained and kept up to date on the latest GDPR regulations and practices. This helps to avoid potential data breaches and create awareness of the importance of data protection within the company.
  2. Data protection officer: Companies should appoint a data protection officer who is responsible for monitoring data protection practices and policies. This person should also be the contact person for data protection issues, both internally and for data subjects.
  3. Data protection impact assessment: A data protection impact assessment should be carried out for new projects or changes that affect the processing of personal data. This can help identify and mitigate potential risks.
  4. Transparency and communication: Companies should communicate clearly and transparently about their data processing practices. Data subjects should have easy access to information and know how to exercise their rights under the GDPR.

The ECJ’s ruling in Case C-300/21 provides important guidance for companies when processing personal data. Now is the time to review data protection practices and ensure they meet the requirements of the GDPR to avoid potential legal consequences. It is clear that compliance with the GDPR is not only a legal requirement, but also an important step in ensuring the trust of customers and the public.

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel

Marian Härtel is a lawyer and entrepreneur specializing in copyright law, competition law and IT/IP law, with a focus on games, esports, media and blockchain.


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