This Week’s Techlaw News Round-up

March 8, 2024

8 March 2024

UK law

ASA investigates supplier pathway of irresponsible ads online

The ASA has launched two projects aimed at better understanding where responsibility lies for inappropriately targeted and irresponsible ads that appear online. This work forms part of its strategy commitment to protect vulnerable audiences, including children, and to bring greater transparency and broader accountability to online advertising regulation. The projects involve looking in depth at the supplier pathway of online ads that are found to have breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code). One project will monitor for ads for age-restricted products, including alcohol, gambling and foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), on sites of particular interest to under-18s. Another project will use the same approach to monitor for seriously offensive and potentially harmful ads, which the ASA knows to have appeared in mobile quiz and game apps.  Using monitoring findings, the ASA will undertake several in-depth case studies seeking to identify the parties involved in the supplier pathway of these non-compliant ads, assessing the part played by the advertiser, the publisher and the intermediary companies that sit between them. It will seek their input to better understand how the ads came to appear, publishing its findings and assessments to help deliver its strategic commitments. It will report on the outcome of the projects later in the year.

ICO issues enforcement order to Home Office

The ICO has issued an enforcement notice and a warning to the Home Office for failing to sufficiently assess the privacy risks posed by its pilot of GPS electronic monitoring of migrants. The ICO says that it has been in discussion with the Home Office since August 2022 on its pilot to place ankle tags on, and track the GPS location of, up to 600 migrants who arrived in the UK and were on immigration bail. Its investigation found that the Home Office failed to sufficiently assess the privacy intrusion of the continuous collection of people’s location information. It says that tracking people is highly intrusive and organisations planning to do this must be able to provide a strong justification for doing so. The Enforcement Notice orders the Home Office to update its internal policies, access guidance and privacy information in relation to the pilot scheme’s data. The ICO has also issued a formal warning stating that any future processing by the Home Office on the same basis will be breach data protection laws and attract enforcement action.

ICO issues enforcement order to charity Penny Appeal

The ICO has sent an enforcement notice to charity Penny Appeal requiring them to stop sending unwanted marketing texts without consent. Penny Appeal sent more than 460,000 texts over a ten-day period to 52,000 people who had never given their consent, or who had clearly opted out. The texts were sent between April and May 2022 during Ramadan, encouraging people to donate to the charity daily. These messages led to 354 complaints. The ICO said that although it understands that reaching donors is a crucial part of fundraising, charities have a responsibility to ensure their marketing follows the law. The ICO said that the complaints illustrate how unlawful messages can affect public trust and cause upset to existing donors.

ICO reprimands West Midlands Police for data protection failure

A reprimand has been issued to West Midlands Police after the force repeatedly incorrectly linked and merged the records of two individuals with similar personal data. West Midlands Police failed to ensure the accuracy of the personal data of the two individuals, resulting in multiple incidents where officers attended a wrong address, including on one occasion when there were serious safeguarding concerns relating to one of the individuals.

New law proposed to deal with online prison content

The Prison Media Bill (which is a private member’s bill supported by the government) will soon go to Committee stage in the House of Commons and aims to criminalise filming and uploading footage filmed behind bars. Currently it is not an offence for someone outside a prison to upload a video they have been sent by someone in custody. The new laws will criminalise posting of videos – as well as photographs and audio recordings – regardless of whether the uploader is in custody or not. It will also criminalise unauthorised filming of staff, including by so-called ‘auditors’, or content captured by drones. Those found guilty will face prosecution and an unlimited fine. Social media companies will be required to remove the illegal content more quickly.

UK Parliament announces call for evidence on Automated Vehicles Bill

The House of Commons Public Bills Committee has issued a call for evidence on the Automated Vehicles Bill. It is seeking evidence as soon as possible, as report stage is due to end on 18 April 2024.

EU law

European Parliament adopts position on SEPs to protect key technologies

The European Parliament has adopted its negotiating position on the new rules on standard-essential patents (SEPs). The fact that these patents are essential to a technical standard mean that no inventions in related areas e.g. Internet of Things (IoT) products, connected vehicles or smart cities can be developed without using them. The EUIPO should become the new EU hub providing information on standard-essential patents and related assistance to companies with the aim to ensure transparency and support innovation. EUIPO should create a register with key information on standard-essential patents and set up an electronic database with specialised information accessible to registered users, including academic institutions. MEPs also want the competence centre to cooperate with national and international patent offices and collect SEPs-related rules outside the EU. MEPs want EUIPO to set up a SEP Licensing Assistance Hub as a one-stop shop to provide free-of-charge training and support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups. The European Parliament is now ready to start talks with EU countries on the final shape of the legislation. The file will be followed up by the new Parliament after the European elections on 6-9 June.

European consumer groups file further complaints against Meta’s pay-or-consent model

Meta is currently rolling out changes to its service in the EU which require Facebook and Instagram users to either consent to the processing of their data for advertising purposes by the company or pay to not be shown advertisements. BEUC says that this is an unfair choice for users, and argues that it breaches EU consumer law on several counts and must be stopped. Eight consumer groups from the BEUC network have filed complaints with their national data protection authorities against Meta, on the basis the tech giant does not adhere to the principles of fair processing, data minimisation and purpose limitation of the GDPR. In addition, BEUC says that Meta does not have a valid legal basis to justify its collection of data from Facebook and Instagram users, because the choice it imposes on its users cannot lead to their freely given and informed consent.

MEPs back plans for an EU-wide digital wallet

The European Parliament has approved plans for a new digital wallet. The new digital identity framework will provide EU citizens with cross border digital access to key public services. The new Regulation will allow citizens to identify and authenticate themselves online.  It will be offered on a voluntary basis. During negotiations, MEPs secured provisions to safeguard citizens’ rights and foster an inclusive digital system by avoiding discrimination against people opting not to use the digital wallet. The law provides for free “qualified electronic signatures” for EU wallet users, which are the most trusted, and have the same legal standing as a handwritten signature, as well as wallet-to-wallet interactions, to improve the fluidity of digital exchanges. MEPs have also mandated an open-source wallet to encourage transparency, innovation and to enhance security. They also set rules for the registration and oversight of companies involved to ensure accountability and traceability. Via a so-called privacy dashboard, users will be able to have full control of their data and will be able to request their data be deleted, as provided for under the GDPR. The Regulation will now have to be formally endorsed by the EU Council of Ministers to become law.

Parliament adopts new transparency rules for political advertising

The European Parliament has adopted new rules on transparency and targeting of political advertising, which will make election and referenda campaigns more transparent and resistant to interference. The new rules will regulate political advertisements, notably online ads, while also providing for a framework for political actors to advertise more easily across the EU. Under the new rules, political advertising will have to be clearly labelled. Citizens, authorities and journalists will be able to easily obtain information on whether they are being targeted with an ad, who is paying for it, how much is being paid, and to which elections or referendum it is linked. All political advertising and related information will be stored in a public online repository. To limit foreign interference in European democratic processes, sponsoring ads from outside the EU will be prohibited in the three-month period before an election or referendum. To protect voters from manipulation, targeting and amplification techniques will only be possible for online political advertising based on personal data collected from the subject once their explicit and separate consent has been given. Special categories of personal data (eg ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation) or minors’ data cannot be used. The rules neither affect the content of political ads nor rules on conduct and financing of political campaigns. Personal views, political opinions, such as any unsponsored journalistic content, or communication on the organisation and participation in elections (e.g. announcements of candidates) by official national or EU sources are not affected.