EDPS issues guidelines on how to ensure confidentiality of whistleblowers

The European Data Protection Supervisor issued today (18 July 2016) Guidelines addressed to the EU institutions and bodies on how to deal with whistleblowers in a way that is compliant with the data protection requirements in Regulation 45/2001.

The first thing you need to know is that the EU Staff Regulations contain an obligation for staff members and other persons working for the EU institutions and bodies to report in writing any reasonable suspicion of illegal activities to the hierarchy or to the European Anti-Fraud Office (“OLAF”) directly.

EU institutions are required to manage whistleblowing reports and ensure the protection of personal information of the whistleblowers, the alleged wrongdoers, the witnesses and the other persons appearing in the report.

According to the EDPS, “the most effective way to encourage staff to report concerns is to ensure them that their identity will be protected. Therefore, clearly defined channels for internal and external reporting and the protection of the information received should be in place. The identity of the whistleblower who reports serious wrongdoings or irregularities in good faith should be treated with the utmost confidentiality as they should be protected against any retaliation”.

Here is a list with the main recommendations from the Guidelines:

1. Implement defined channels for internal and external reporting and specific rules where the purpose is clearly specified.

2. Ensure confidentiality of the information received and protect the whistleblowers’ identity and all other persons involved.

3. Apply the principle of data minimisation: only process personal information, which are adequate, relevant and necessary, for the particular case.

4. Identify what personal information means in this context and which are the affected individuals to determine their right of information, access and rectification. Restrictions to these rights are allowed, as long as the EU institutions are able to provide documented reasons before taking such a decision.

5. Apply the two-step procedure to inform each category of individuals concerned about how their data will be processed.

6. Ensure when responding to right of access requests that personal information of other parties is not revealed.

7. Assess the appropriate competence of the recipient (internal or external) and then limit the transfer of personal information only when necessary for the legitimate performance of tasks covered by the competence of the recipient.

8. Define proportionate conservation periods for the personal information processed within the scope of the whistleblowing procedure depending on the outcome of each case .

9. Implement both organisational and technical security measures based on a risk assessment analysis of the whistleblowing procedure in order to guarantee a lawful and secure processing of personal information.

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