Tag Archives: purpose limitation

CJEU case to follow: purpose limitation, processing sensitive data, non-material damage

A new case received by the General Court of the CJEU was published in the Official Journal of the EU in February, Case T-881/16 HJ v EMA.

A British citizen seeks to engage the non-contractual liability of the European Medicines Agency for breaching data protection law. The applicant claims that “the documents in his personal file, which were made public and accessible to any member of staff of the European Medicines Agency for a period of time, were not processed fairly and lawfully but were processed for purposes other than those for which they were collected without that change in purpose having been expressly authorised by the applicant”.

Further, the applicant claims that “the dissemination of that sensitive data consequently called into question the applicant’s integrity, causing him real and certain non-material harm”.

The applicant asks the Court to “order the defendant to pay the applicant the symbolic sum of EUR 1 by way of compensation for the non-material harm suffered”.

Even if in the published summary there is no mention of the applicable law, it is clear that Regulation 45/2001 is relevant in this case – the data protection regulation applicable to EU institutions and bodies (EMA is an EU body). The rules of Regulation 45/2001 are fairly similar to those of Directive 95/46.

(Thanks dr. Mihaela Mazilu-Babel for bringing this case to my attention)


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“Purpose limitation”, explained by the Article 29 WP

On April 2, Article 29 WP published its Opinion on “purpose limitation”, one of the safeguards which make data protection efficient in Europe.

Purpose limitation protects data subjects by setting limits on how data controllers are able to use their data while also offering some degree of flexibility for data controllers. The concept of purpose limitation has two main building blocks: personal data must be collected for ‘specified, explicit and legitimate’ purposes (purpose specification) and not be ‘further processed in a way incompatible’ with those purposes (compatible use).

Further processing for a different purpose does not necessarily mean that it is incompatible:
compatibility needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. A substantive compatibility assessment requires an assessment of all relevant circumstances. In particular, account should be taken of the following key factors:

– the relationship between the purposes for which the personal data have been collected and the purposes of further processing;
– the context in which the personal data have been collected and the reasonable expectations of the data subjects as to their further use;
– the nature of the personal data and the impact of the further processing on the data subjects;
– the safeguards adopted by the controller to ensure fair processing and to prevent any undue impact on the data subjects.

Conclusions of the Opinion:

First building block: ‘specified, explicit and legitimate’ purposes

With regard to purpose specification, the WP29 highlights the following key considerations:

 Purposes must be specific. This means that – prior to, and in any event, no later than the time when the collection of personal data occurs – the purposes must be precisely and fully identified to determine what processing is and is not included within the specified purpose and to allow that compliance with the law can be assessed and data protection
safeguards can be applied.

 Purposes must be explicit, that is, clearly revealed, explained or expressed in some form in order to make sure that everyone concerned has the same unambiguous understanding of the purposes of the processing irrespective of any cultural or linguistic diversity. Purposes may be made explicit in different ways.

 There may be cases of serious shortcomings, for example where the controller fails to specify the purposes of the processing in sufficient detail or in a clear and unambiguous language, or where the specified purposes are misleading or do not correspond to reality. In any such situation, all the facts should be taken into account to determine the actual purposes, along with the common understanding and reasonable expectations of the data subjects based on the context of the case.

 Purposes must be legitimate. Legitimacy is a broad requirement, which goes beyond a simple cross-reference to one of the legal grounds for the processing referred to under Article 7 of the Directive. It also extends to other areas of law and must be interpreted within the context of the processing. Purpose specification under Article 6 and the requirement to have a lawful ground for processing under Article 7 of the Directive are two separate and cumulative requirements.

 If personal data are further processed for a different purpose
– the new purpose/s must be specified (Article 6(1)(b)), and
– it must be ensured that all data quality requirements (Articles 6(1)(a) to (e)) are also
satisfied for the new purposes.

Second building block: compatible use
 Article 6(1)(b) of the Directive also introduces the notions of ‘further processing’ and ‘incompatible’ use. It requires that further processing must not be incompatible with the purposes for which personal data were collected. The prohibition of incompatible use sets a limitation on further use. It requires that a distinction be made between further use that is ‘compatible’, and further use that is ‘incompatible’, and therefore, prohibited.

 By prohibiting incompatibility rather than requiring compatibility, the legislator seems to give some flexibility with regard to further use. Further processing for a different purpose does not necessarily and automatically mean that it is incompatible, as compatibility needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

 In this context, the WP29 emphasises that the specific provision in Article 6(1)(b) of the Directive on ‘further processing for historical, statistical or scientific purposes’ should be seen as a specification of the general rule, while not excluding that other cases could also be considered as ‘not incompatible’. This leads to a more prominent role for different kinds of safeguards, including technical and organisational measures for functional separation, such as full or partial anonymisation, pseudonymisation, aggregation of data, and privacy enhancing technologies.

The Opinion is available HERE.

Going back to basics

Being in the process of writing my thesis, I have realized how important it is to stop from searching through the whirling flux of current information and new developments in the area of privacy and information technology, or more generally “law and technology”, and look back at the beginning of this craziness.

One might find answers for questions she didn’t even know she needed to answer. Or, at least, she might find some reassurance that the legal thought in this field is capable of steadiness and coherence.

This is why I decided to share with you the principles enshrined in the first “internationalization” effort of personal data protection that I know of, RESOLUTION (73) 22 ON THE PROTECTION OF THE PRIVACY OF INDIVIDUALS VIS-A-VIS ELECTRONIC DATA BANKS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 26 September 1973).


The information stored should be accurate and should be kept up to date. In general, information relating to the intimate private life of persons or information which might lead to unfair discrimination should not be recorded or, if recorded, should not be disseminated.


The information should be appropriate and relevant with regard to the purpose for which it has been stored.


The information should not be obtained by fraudulent or unfair means.


Rules should be laid down to specify the periods beyond which certain categories of information should no longer be kept or used.


Without appropriate authorisation, information should not be used for purposes other than those for which it has been stored, nor communicated to third parties.


As a general rule, the person concerned should have the right to know the information stored about him, the purpose for which it has been recorded, and particulars of each release of this information.


Every care should be taken to correct inaccurate information and to erase obsolete information or information obtained in an unlawful way.


Precautions should be taken against any abuse or misuse of information. Electronic data banks should be equipped with security systems which bar access to the data held by them to persons not entitled to obtain such information, and which provide for the detection of misdirections of information, whether intentional or not.


Access to the information stored should be confined to persons who have a valid reason to know it. The operating staff of electronic data banks should be bound by rules of conduct aimed at preventing the misuse of data and, in particular, by rules of professional secrecy.


Statistical data should be released only in aggregate form and in such a way that it is impossible to link the information to a particular person.

The original text of the Resolution can be found here.

We encounter access rights, purpose limitation, erasure of obsolete data and even the idea of anonymization. In 1973.

I got my ounce of inspiration from wondering how the essence of these principles are still relevant so many decades after they were published. And I hope you will also find yours.