New FPF Report: Unlocking Data Protection by Design and by Default: Lessons from the Enforcement of Article 25 GDPR
On May 17, the Future of Privacy Forum launched a new report on enforcement of the EU’s GDPR Data Protection by Design and by Default (DPbD&bD) obligations, which are outlined in GDPR Article 25. The Report draws from more than 92 data protection authority (DPA) cases, court rulings, and guidelines from 16 EEA member states, the UK, and the EDPB to provide an analysis of enforcement trends regarding Article 25. The identified cases cover a spectrum of personal data processing activities, from accessing online services and platforms, to tools for educational and employment contexts, to “emotion recognition” AI systems for customer support, and many more.
The Report aims to explore the effectiveness of the DPbD&bD obligations in practice, informed by how DPAs and courts enforced Article 25. For instance, we analyze whether DPAs and courts find breaches of Article 25 without links to other infringements of the regulation and what provisions enforcers tend to apply together with Article 25 the most, including the general data protection principles and requirements related to data security under Article 32. We also look at what controls and controller behavior are and are not deemed sufficient to comply with Article 25.
The GDPR’s DPbD&bD provisions in Article 25 oblige controllers to: 1) adopt technical and organizational measures (TOMs) that, by design, implement data protection principles into data processing and protect the rights of individuals whose personal data is processed; and 2) ensure that only personal data necessary for each specific purpose is processed. Given the breadth of these obligations, it has been argued that Article 25 makes the GDPR “stick” by bridging the gap between its legal text and practical implementation. GDPR’s DPbD&bD obligations are seen as a tool to enhance accountability for data controllers, implement data protection effectively, and add emphasis to the proactive implementation of data protection safeguards.
Our analysis on the enforcement, and ultimately the effectiveness, of Article 25 is all the more important, given the increasing development and deployment of novel technologies involving very complex personal data processing, like Generative AI, and rising data protection concerns. Understanding how Article 25 obligations manifest in practice and the requirements of DPbD&bD may prove essential for the next technological age.
This Report outlines and explores the key elements of GDPR Article 25, including the:
- Role of the controller;
- Qualified nature of the obligation;
- Concept of appropriate TOMs;
- Stage of the data processing activity in which TOMs should be applied; and
- Effectiveness requirement.
Additionally, we analyze the individual concepts of “by Design” and “by Default,” identify divergent enforcement trends, and explore three common applications of Article 25 (direct marketing, privacy preservation and Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs), and EdTech). This Report also includes a number of Annexes that seek to provide more information on the specific cases analyzed and a comparative overview of DPA enforcement actions.
Our analysis determines that European DPAs diverge in how they interpret the preventive nature of Article 25 GDPR. Some are reluctant to find violations in cases of isolated incidents or where Article 5 GDPR principles are not violated, while others apply Article 25 preventively before further GDPR breaches or even planned data processing. Our research also finds that most DPAs are reluctant to specify appropriate protective measures and to explicitly outline the role of PETs. Ultimately, the Report shows that despite the novelty of Article 25, and the criticism surrounding its vague and abstract wording, it is a frequent source of some of the highest GDPR fines, highlighting the need for organizations to maintain a firm grasp over the concepts of DPbD&bD.