Twenty-fourth Plenary session: EDPB doubles down on COVID-19 guidance in newly adopted letters

24 April 2020

During its 24th plenary session, the EDPB adopted three letters, reinforcing several elements from its earlier guidance on data protection in the context of fighting the COVID-19 outbreak.

In reply to a letter from the United States Mission to the European Union, the EDPB looks into transfers of health data for research purposes, enabling international cooperation for the development of a vaccine. The US Mission enquired into the possibility of relying on a derogation of Art. 49 GDPR to enable international flows.

The EDPB tackled this topic in detail in its recently adopted guidelines (03/2020) on the processing of health data for scientific research. In its letter, the EDPB reiterates that the GDPR allows for collaboration between EEA and non-EEA scientists in the search for vaccines and treatments against COVID-19, while simultaneously protecting fundamental data protection rights in the EEA.

When data are transferred outside of the EEA, solutions that guarantee the continuous protection of data subjects’ fundamental rights, such as adequacy decisions or appropriate safeguards (included in Article 46 GDPR) should be favoured, according to the EDPB.  

However, the EDPB considers that the fight against COVID-19 has been recognised by the EU and Member States as an important public interest, as it has caused an exceptional sanitary crisis of an unprecedented nature and scale. This may require urgent action in the field of scientific research, necessitating transfers of personal data to third countries or international organisations.
In the absence of an adequacy decision or appropriate safeguards, public authorities and private entities may also rely upon derogations included in Article 49 GDPR

Andrea Jelinek, the Chair of the EDPB, said: “The global scientific community is racing against the clock to develop a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment. The EDPB confirms that the GDPR offers tools giving the best guarantees for international transfers of health data and is flexible enough to offer faster temporary solutions in the face of the urgent medical situation.”

The EDPB also adopted a response to a request from MEPs Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová and Eugen Jurzyca.

The EDPB replies that data protection laws already take into account data processing operations necessary to contribute to fighting an epidemic, therefore - according to the EDPB - there is no reason to lift GDPR provisions, but to observe them. In addition, the EDPB refers to the guidelines on the issues of geolocation and other tracing tools, as well as the processing of health data for research purposes in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Andrea Jelinek, Chair of the EDPB, added: “The GDPR is designed to be flexible. As a result, it can enable an efficient response to support the fight against the pandemic, while at the same time protecting fundamental human rights and freedoms. When the processing of personal data is necessary in the context of COVID-19, data protection is indispensable to build trust, to create the conditions for social acceptability of any possible solution and, therefore, to guarantee the effectiveness of these measures”.

The EDPB received two letters from Sophie In 't Veld MEP, raising a series of questions regarding the latest technologies that are being developed in order to fight the spread of COVID-19.

In its reply, the EDPB refers to its recently adopted guidelines (04/2020) on the use of location data and contact tracing apps, which highlight – among other elements - that such schemes should have a voluntary nature, use the least amount of data possible, and should not trace individual movements, but rather use proximity information of users.

The agenda of the 23rd plenary is available here

Note to editors:
Please note that all documents adopted during the EDPB Plenary are subject to the necessary legal, linguistic and formatting checks and will be made available on the EDPB website once these have been completed.

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