This week’s Techlaw News Round-Up

March 13, 2020

ICO issues guidance on data protection in wake of coronavirus

The ICO has issued guidance on data protection and coronavirus. The guidance states that data protection and electronic communication laws do not stop the government, the NHS or any other health professionals from sending public health messages to people by phone, text or email as these messages are not direct marketing. Nor does it stop them using the latest technology to facilitate safe and speedy consultations and diagnoses. Public bodies may require additional collection and sharing of personal data to protect against serious threats to public health. Regarding compliance with data protection, the ICO will take into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency.

Tech companies meet to discuss coronavirus

Major technology companies, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, have met with officials at Downing Street to discuss how they can help make sure the public get the most accurate and up-to-date information on coronavirus. The tech companies were invited to discuss and consider their role in modelling and tracking data of the disease, and the impact any government interventions were having. Officials set out the role tech companies can play in helping deliver the government’s action plan, supporting the NHS, and helping develop tools that can be used across the country.  They stressed how important tech firms were in ensuring communities, including vulnerable people, had access to the most reliable information. This would help individuals and families make informed decisions about how to respond to the virus and keep themselves healthy. In the meeting, the potential extent, scope and impact of disinformation linked to coronavirus was also discussed, and how this can be dealt with.

BT fined £245,000 for overcharging EE customers for 118 calls

Ofcom has fined BT £245,000 after an investigation found that BT overcharged EE’s mobile customers for making calls to 118 directory enquiries services.  Ofcom introduced a price cap on 118 phone numbers in April 2019. Its investigation found that BT did not implement this immediately for EE customers.  As a result, over a three-month period, between April and June last year, almost 6,000 EE customers were overcharged by around £42,000 for making calls to 118 numbers. However, BT was able to correct most bills before EE customers paid them. This meant that around £10,000 of the total amount overcharged was paid by EE customers. All customers have since been refunded.  BT’s failure to implement the 118 price cap was a serious breach of Ofcom’s rules, particularly taking into account the potentially vulnerable people that use directory enquiry services. As a result, Ofcom has imposed a penalty of £245,000 on BT.  The penalty includes a 30% discount in recognition that BT admitted its failings by agreeing to settle the case.

European Commission adopts Circular Economy Action Plan

The European Commission has adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan, as part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s new agenda for sustainable growth. With measures along the entire lifecycle of products, the new Action Plan aims to make the EU’s economy fit for a green future, strengthen competitiveness while protecting the environment and give new rights to consumers. The Commission says that it will introduce regulatory measures for electronics and information communications technology (including mobile phones, tablets and laptops) under the Ecodesign Directive, so that devices are designed for energy efficiency and durability, reparability, upgradability, maintenance, reuse and recycling.  It will also focus on electronics and ICT as a priority sector for implementing the “right to repair”, including a right to update obsolete software.  Further, it will introduce a common charger for mobile devices.  It also intends to improve how waste electrical and electronic equipment is collected, including options for an EU-wide take-back scheme to return or sell back old mobile phones, tablets and chargers.  It will also review legislation on restrictions of hazardous substances.  A new regulatory framework will be proposed for batteries, which will include recycled content and measures to improve the collection and recycling rates of all batteries, ensure the recovery of valuable materials and provide guidance to consumers; measures to progressively phase out non-rechargeable batteries where alternatives exist; and provisions about sustainability and transparency for batteries.

European Commission presents new industrial strategy

The European Commission has presented a new strategy with the aim of helping Europe’s industry lead the twin transitions towards climate neutrality and digital leadership. The Strategy aims to drive Europe’s competitiveness and its strategic autonomy at a time of moving geopolitical plates and increasing global competition. Its future proposed actions include an Intellectual Property Action Plan; a review of EU competition rules, including the ongoing evaluation of merger control and fitness check of State aid guidelines; and a White Paper on foreign subsidies in the single market. The plan also covers measures to modernise and decarbonise energy-intensive industries, support sustainable and smart mobility industries, to promote energy efficiency, strengthen current carbon leakage tools and secure a sufficient and constant supply of low-carbon energy at competitive prices. There will also be an action plan on critical raw materials and a new Pharmaceutical Strategy as well as support for the development of strategic digital infrastructures and key enabling technologies. The strategy also includes a A Clean Hydrogen Alliance to accelerate the decarbonisation of industry and maintain industrial leadership, followed by Alliances on Low-Carbon Industries and on Industrial Clouds and Platforms and raw materials; further legislation and guidance on green public procurement; and a renewed focus on innovation, investment and skills.

ICO reviews Sandbox initiative after six months

The ICO has issued a review of its Sandbox initiative, which it launched in September 2019.  It supports ten projects where organisations are innovating using data protection by design.  The main themes coming out of the projects are realising the benefits of data in the public sector, questions about consent, the challenge of new technologies and data analytics. By applying the legislation to new and emerging situations, the ICO Is also developing its understanding and using this to inform its wider guidance and regulatory approaches. The ICO says the projects are potentially a blueprint for future work, laying down the privacy building blocks for future organisations, combining data protection and innovation.

European Commission consults on Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List

The European Commission has launched a public consultation aimed at identifying online and physical marketplaces located outside the EU that are reported to engage in or facilitate substantial IPR infringements, and in particular piracy and counterfeiting.  It intends to publish an update of its so called “Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List” towards the end of 2020. This list will again identify and describe the most problematic marketplaces – with special focus on online marketplaces – to encourage their operators and owners as well as the responsible local authorities and governments to take the necessary actions and measures to reduce the availability of IPR infringing goods or services. The consultation ends on 12 May 2020.

Voluntary Principles established to combat online child sexual exploitation

Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse have been developed in consultation with six leading technology companies and a broad range of other experts from industry, civil society and academia.  The Voluntary Principles cover issues ranging from combating child sexual abuse material, online grooming and livestreaming of child sexual abuse to protecting victims, and industry transparency and reporting. They are designed to be flexible for all companies, regardless of their size or platform format, to implement, and provide a strong message for companies to address the scale and nature of the online child sexual abuse facilitated by their platforms.

Report published on AI in the medical sector

EIT Health and McKinsey & Company have published a report on the potential of AI in healthcare, helping define the impact of AI on healthcare practitioners, and the implications of introducing and scaling AI for healthcare organisations and healthcare systems, with a particular focus on Europe and EU member states. The report aims to provide not only a comprehensive ‘macro’ perspective on AI in healthcare, but also ground this view in the reality of the people tasked with making AI happen in healthcare delivery. While recognising that it is still early days in terms of fully understanding the potential role of AI in healthcare, the report helps define the boundaries between aspiration, reality and hype, providing insights into how much of the AI in healthcare narrative is a reality and how healthcare professionals, startup executives and investors prioritise and navigate innovation.

Other news published on this week