On 4 May 2023, the CJEU provided a preliminary ruling for Case C-487/21, in which the Austrian Court sought guidance on the scope of information accessible to data subjects under the right to access a copy of personal data, as provided for by Article 15(3) of the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”).
CJEU rulings are binding within the EU and no longer in the UK (though UK organisations may need to adhere to them, when the extraterritorial provisions of the EU’s GDPR apply).
The Austrian Court approached the CJEU with uncertainty as to the applicable scope of Article 15(3), requesting clarity in relation to two sentences of the provision:
- The meaning of “copy” in the first sentence of Article 15(3):
“The controller shall provide a copy of the personal data undergoing processing”.
The Court requested clarity as to whether the obligation to provide the data subject with a “copy” would necessitate the provision of entire documents and database extracts, or whether this obligation can be easily satisfied by providing the data subject with a summarised list of their data.
- The concept of “information” in the third sentence of Article 15(3):
“Where the data subject makes the request by electronic means, and unless otherwise requested by the data subject, the information shall be provided in a commonly used electronic form”.
The Court requested clarity as to whether this sentence affords the data subject a general right to copies of all documents containing their personal information, or if the “information” accessible extends only to the personal data “undergoing processing”, in accordance with the first sentence of Article 15(3).
The case involved a consulting agency who provides commercial clients with information on the creditworthiness of third parties. The applicant made a request to the agency, on the basis of Article 15(3), for a copy of documents containing his personal data “in a standard technical format”. In response, the agency sent the applicant a document with the personal data that was undergoing processing in the format of a summarised list.
Under the impression that the Article 15(3) right entitled him to copies of entire documents and database extracts, the applicant lodged a complaint with the Austrian Data Protection Authority (“DPA”). The DPA rejected such complaint under the premise that there had been no infringement and the agency had in fact satisfied the data subject’s right to access copies.
The data subject brought the case to the Austrian Federal Administrative Court, who sought clarity from the CJEU on the precise interpretation of Article 15(3) of the GDPR. In addressing the two questions surrounding the interpretative scope of the provision above, the CJEU delivered the following responses:
First question: the meaning of “copy”
The CJEU confirmed that the copies that the controller must provide pursuant to the first sentence of Article 15(3) must have all the characteristics necessary to provide the data subject with a faithful and intelligible reproduction of all those data. This affords data subjects the right to obtain copies of extracts from documents or databases or even entire documents which contain, inter alia, those data.
Second question: the concept of “information”
The CJEU clarified that the reference to “information”, in the third sentence of Article 15(3), exclusively corresponds and refers to the “personal data undergoing processing” that the controller is obliged to provide a copy of in accordance with the first sentence of the paragraph. As such, the third sentence of Article 15(3) does not generate any additional right for the data subject to access copies of document and databases containing broader “information” that is not undergoing processing.
Overall, the CJEU’s ruling provides essential clarity in regard to scope of Article 15(3)’s right to access a copy of personal data. This outcome should encourage EU controllers to act accordingly when fulfilling a data subject’s request to receive copies, even if this means preparing, compiling and delivering entire database extracts and documents.
Find the CJEU ruling here.
Please contact Jose Saras if you have any questions regarding the above.
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