Data Protected - Belgium

Last updated June 2018

General | Data Protection Laws

National Legislation
National Supervisory Authority
Scope of Application
Personal Data
Sensitive Personal Data
Data Protection Officers
Accountability and Privacy Impact Assessments
Rights of Data Subjects
Security
Transfer of Personal Data to Third Countries
Enforcement

ePrivacy | Marketing and cookies

National Legislation
Cookies
Marketing by E-mail
Marketing by Telephone

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General | Data Protection Laws

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National Legislation

General data protection laws

The General Data Protection Regulation (EU) (2016/679)(“GDPR”).

Belgium is currently subject to the law of 8 December 1992 on privacy protection in relation to the processing of personal data. That law is not considered below, though it is summarised in the last edition of Data Protected, available here.

Belgium is also in the process of adapting its national legislation to the GDPR. This is done in two different streams.

The first is the reform of the Belgian Privacy Commission, in terms of organisation as well as in terms of capabilities. This is now completed with the adoption of the law of 3 December 2017, which was published on 10 January 2018 and will enter into force on 25 May 2018 (“DPA Act”).

The second is a framework law to address the national aspects of the GDPR. However, no draft has been made public yet.

Entry into force

The GDPR applies from 25 May 2018.

The national laws should apply as from the same date.

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National Supervisory Authority

Details of the competent national supervisory authority

The DPA Act changes the name of the authority to ‘Data Protection Authority’ (Gegevensbeschermingsautoriteit/Autorité de protection des données). The DPA will receive additional powers to ensure compliance with the GDPR. In this context, the DPA will be re-organised. It will be composed of six departments: a board of directors, a body in charge for the daily operations, a first line advice service, a knowledge centre, an investigating authority and a body in charge of litigation. We assume that the DPA will be located at the same address as before.

Data Protection Authority (the “DPA”)
Rue de la Presse 35
1000 Brussels
Belgium

www.privacycommission.be

The DPA will represent Belgium on the European Data Protection Board.

Notification or registration scheme and timing

There is no obligation to notify regulators of any processing under the GDPR. 

Exemptions to notification

Not applicable.

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Scope of Application

What is the territorial scope of application?

The GDPR applies to controllers or processors established in the EU.

It also contains express extra-territorial provisions and will apply to controllers or processors based outside the EU that: (i) offer goods or services to individuals in the EU; or (ii) monitor individuals within the EU. Controllers and processors caught by these provisions will need to appoint a representative in the EU, subject to certain limited exemptions.

Is there a concept of a controller and processor?

Yes. The GDPR contains the concept of a controller, who determines the purpose and means of processing, and a processor, who just processes personal data on behalf of the controller.

Both controllers and processors are subject to the rules in the GDPR, but the obligations placed on processors are more limited. 

Are both manual and electronic records subject to data protection legislation?

Yes. The GDPR applies to both electronic records and structured hard copy records.

Are there any national derogations?

The GDPR does not apply to law enforcement activities which are instead subject to the Law Enforcement Directive. The GDPR also does not apply to areas of law that are outside the scope of Union law, such as national security, and does not apply to purely personal or household activity.

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Personal Data

What is personal data?

Personal data is information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.

This is a broad term and includes a wide range of information. The GDPR expressly states it includes online identifiers such as IP addresses and cookie identifiers.

Is information about legal entities personal data?

No. However, information about sole traders and partnerships is likely to be personal data.

What are the rules for processing personal data?

All processing of personal data must comply with all six general data quality principles. Personal data must be: (a) processed fairly and lawfully; (b) collected for specific, explicit and legitimate purposes and not processed in a manner incompatible with those purposes; (c) adequate, relevant and not excessive; (d) accurate and, where necessary, up to date; (e) kept in an identifiable form for no longer than necessary; and (f) kept secure.

The processing of personal data must also satisfy at least one condition for processing personal data. These conditions are that the processing is: (a) carried out with the data subject’s consent; (b) necessary for the performance of a contract with the data subject; (c) necessary for compliance with a legal obligation; (d) necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject; (e) necessary for the public interest or in the exercise of official authority; or (f) necessary for the controller’s or recipient’s legitimate interests, except where overridden by the interests of the data subject.

These rules are almost identical to the core requirements for processing personal data in the Data Protection Directive.

Are there any formalities to obtain consent to process personal data?

Obtaining consent will become much harder under the GDPR. 

To be valid, consent must be in clear and plain language and, where sought in writing, separate from other matters. Consent must be based on affirmative action so pre-ticked boxes are not acceptable. Consent might not be valid if: (i) there is any detriment to the data subject for refusing; (ii) there is an imbalance of power; (iii) consent for multiple purposes is bundled together; or (iv) the consent is a condition of entering into a contract. Finally, consent can be withdrawn at any time.

In practice, other processing conditions should be relied on where possible. Consent will only be an appropriate processing condition if the individual has a genuine choice over the matter, for example, whether to be sent marketing materials. 

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on Consent (WP259).

Are there any special rules when processing personal data about children?

Consent from a child in relation to online services will only be valid if authorised by a parent. A child is someone under 16 years old, though Member States may reduce this age to 13.

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Sensitive Personal Data

What is sensitive personal data?

Sensitive personal data is personal data consisting of racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, or trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, data concerning health or data concerning a natural person’s sex life or sexual orientation.

The inclusion of genetic and biometric data is new and an extension to the types of sensitive personal data in the Data Protection Directive.
Information about criminal offences is dealt with separately and is subject to even tighter controls.

Are there additional rules for processing sensitive personal data?

Sensitive personal data may only be processed if a condition for processing sensitive personal data is satisfied. A condition arises where the processing: (a) is carried out with the data subject’s explicit consent; (b) is necessary for a legal obligation in the field of employment law; (c) is necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject or another person where the data subject is unable to give consent; (d) is carried out by a non-profit-seeking body and relates to members of that body or persons who have regular contact; (e) relates to data made public by the data subject; (f) is necessary for legal claims; (g) is for reasons of substantial public interest under EU or Member State law; (h) is necessary for healthcare reasons; (i) is necessary for public health reasons; or (j) is necessary for archiving, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes and is based on EU or Member State law.

Are there additional rules for processing information about criminal offences?

It is only possible to process information about criminal convictions or offences if: (a) it is carried out under the control of official authority; or (b) when the processing is authorised by EU or Member State law.

Are there any formalities to obtain consent to process sensitive personal data?

Consent to process sensitive personal data must be explicit. The general restrictions on consent, set out above, will also apply. This suggests a degree of formality, such as ticking a box containing the express words “I consent”. It is unlikely explicit consent could be obtained through a course of conduct.

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Data Protection Officers

When must a data protection officer be appointed?

Both controllers and processors must appoint a data protection officer if: (i) they are a public authority; (ii) their core activities consist of regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale; or (iii) their core activities consist of processing sensitive personal data on a large scale (including processing information about criminal offences).

Data protection officers must also be appointed where required by national law. However, as far as we are aware, Belgium does not intend to make such appointment mandatory in any additional circumstances.

What are the duties of the data protection officer?

The data protection officer must be involved in all data protection issues and cannot be dismissed or penalised for performing their role. The data protection officer must report directly to the highest level of management. 

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on Data Protection Officers (WP243).

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Accountability and Privacy Impact Assessments

Is there a general accountability obligation?

The GDPR adds a new general accountability obligation under which you must not only comply with these new rules, but also be able to demonstrate you comply with them. This means ensuring suitable policies are in place supported by audit and training.

Are privacy impact assessments mandatory?

A privacy impact assessment must be conducted where “high risk” processing is carried out. This includes: (a) systematic and extensive profiling that produces legal effects or significantly affects individuals; (b) processing sensitive personal data on a large scale; and (c) systematic monitoring of a publicly accessible area on a large scale (e.g. CCTV).

The Article 29 Working Party has subsequently issued Guidelines on Data Protection Impact Assessments (WP 248). It suggests there are nine criteria to consider to determine whether to conduct a privacy impact assessment, and that an assessment should be made if two or more of those criteria are met. This is arguably wider than the criteria set out in the paragraph above. 

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Rights of Data Subjects

Privacy notices

A controller must provide data subjects with a privacy notice setting out how the individual’s personal data will be processed. The privacy notice must contain the enhanced transparency information.

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on Transparency (WP260).

Rights to access information

Data subjects will have a right to access copies of their personal data by making a written request to the controller. The initial request is free, though a charge can be made for subsequent requests. Controllers can refuse the request if it is manifestly unfounded or excessive. The response must be provided within a month, though this can be extended by two months if the request is complex. 

Rights to data portability

Data subjects will also have a right to data portability where the condition for processing personal data is consent or the performance of a contract. It entitles individuals to obtain any personal data they have “provided” to the controller in a machine-readable format. Individuals can also ask for the data to be transferred directly from one controller to another. There is no right to charge fees for this service.

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on data portability (WP242).

Right to be forgotten

A data subject can ask that their data be deleted in certain circumstances. However, those circumstances are relatively limited, for example where the processing is based on consent, that consent is withdrawn and there are no other grounds for processing. Even where the right does arise, there are range of exemptions, for example where there is a legal obligation to retain the data. 

Objection to direct marketing

A data subject can object to their personal data being processed for direct marketing purposes at any time. This includes the processing of their personal data for profiling purposes.

Other rights

The GDPR contains a range of other rights, including a right to have inaccurate data corrected. There is also a right to object to processing being carried out in the performance of a public task or under the legitimate interests condition. Finally, there are rights to object to automated processing.

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on Automated Decision Making and Profiling (WP251).

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Security

Security requirements in order to protect personal data

The GDPR contains a general obligation to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to protect personal data.

In addition, controllers and processors must ensure, where appropriate: (i) the pseudonymisation and encryption of personal data; (ii) the ability to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of its information technology systems; (iii) the ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a physical or technical incident; and (iv) a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures for ensuring the security of the processing. 

Specific rules governing processing by third party agents (processors)

A controller must ensure that any processor it instructs will ensure adequate security for personal data and otherwise meet the requirements of the GDPR.

The controller must have written contracts with its processor containing the enhanced processor clauses.

Notice of breach laws

A personal data breach must be notified to the relevant supervisory authority unless it is unlikely to result in a risk to data subjects. The notification must, where feasible, be made within 72 hours. If the personal data breach is a high risk for data subjects, those data subjects must also be notified.

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on Personal Data Breach Notification (WP250).

Specific notice of breach laws apply to the electronic communications sector under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive

Moreover, data controllers in certain sectors may be required to inform sectoral regulators of any breach as may be required by other laws.

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Transfer of Personal Data to Third Countries

Restrictions on transfers to third countries

The GDPR contains a restriction on transborder dataflows. Transfers can take place if it: (i) is to a whitelisted country; (ii) is made pursuant to a set of Model Contracts; (ii) is made pursuant to binding corporate rules; (iv) is made to an importer who has signed up to an approved code or obtained an approved certification; or (v) is otherwise approved by the relevant supervisory authority.

Transfers are also possible if an individual derogation applies. These derogations allow a transfer if it: (i) is made with the data subject’s explicit consent; (ii) is necessary for the performance of a contract with, or in the interests of, the data subject; (iii) is necessary or legally required on important public interest grounds, or for legal claims; (iv) is necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject; (v) is made from a public register; or (vi) is made under the so-called minor transfer exemption.

The position is broadly the same as under the Data Protection Directive. One notable change is the introduction of the so-called minor transfer exemption, though that exemption will be very hard to rely on in practice.

Notification and approval of national regulator (including notification of use of Model Contracts)

In general, there is no need for prior approval from a supervisory authority. However, this depends on the justification for the transfer. 

For example, there will be no obligation to get approval for the use of Model Contracts (though it is possible some supervisory authorities may want to be notified of their use). In contrast, it will be necessary to get approval to rely on binding corporate rules, and the supervisory authority must be informed of transfers made using the minor transfers exemption.

Use of binding corporate rules

The GDPR places binding corporate rules on a statutory footing. It will be possible to obtain authorisation from one supervisory authority that will cover transfers from anywhere in the EU.

In Belgium, the DPA is usually supportive to the adoption of binding corporate rules.

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Enforcement

Fines

The GDPR is intended to make data protection a boardroom issue. It introduces an antitrust-type sanction regime with fines of up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover or €20m, whichever is the greater. These fines apply to breaches of many of the provisions of the GDPR, including failure to comply with the six general data quality principles or carrying out processing without satisfying a condition for processing personal data.

A limited number of breaches fall into a lower tier and so are subject to fines of up to 2% of annual worldwide turnover or €10m, whichever is the greater. Failing to notify a personal data breach or failing to put an adequate contract in place with a processor fall into this lower tier.

The Article 29 Working Party has issued Guidelines on administrative fines (WP253).

Imprisonment

There is no law or draft bill available yet to set out possible criminal sanctions (including, as the case may be, imprisonment) for breach of the GDPR.

Compensation

Data subjects have a right to compensation in respect of material and non-material damage.

Other powers

Regulators will have a range of other powers and sanctions at their disposal. This includes investigative powers, such as the ability to demand information from controllers and processors, and to carry out audits. They will also have corrective powers enabling them to issue warnings or reprimands, to enforce an individual’s rights and to issue a temporary or permanent ban on processing. 

Practice

The GDPR is not enforceable yet. However, the enforcement of the current legal regime is instructive.

In 2016, the Privacy Commission opened 4,491 files (which is an increase of 299 files compared to 2015, 665 files compared to 2014 and 959 files compared to 2013).

Amongst these files, 3,841 consisted of requests for information from the public and private sectors as well as data subjects, 318 requests for mediation and 332 control files (i.e. mainly files where the Commission is requested to exercise a right of indirect access when the direct access by the data subject is not allowed). In 67% of the mediation requests, compared to 39% of the control files regarding indirect access, the Commission found a violation of the law on data protection. The issue of surveillance cameras is the most recurrent topic in the three types of files.

The number of notifications of new processing activities exceeded 10,000 in 2016, 6,137 of which related to camera surveillance.

An example of enforcement is the civil action that the Commission initiated against Facebook regarding its terms of use which entered into force on 30 January 2015. The Commission considered, amongst others, that these terms enabled Facebook to track both users and non-users of Facebook without obtaining proper consent from the latter. In a judgement of 9 November 2015, the President of the Court of First Instance of Brussels in summary proceedings ordered Facebook Inc., Facebook Ireland Limited and Facebook Belgium SPRL to cease registering via cookies and social plug-ins which websites are visited by Belgian based internet users who do not have a Facebook account. Non-compliance with the order was subject to a penalty of EUR 250,000 per day. Facebook lodged an appeal against the decision while accepting to comply with the ruling. On 29 June 2016, the Court of Appeal of Brussels dismissed the case in summary proceedings stating that (i) the Belgian courts do not have international jurisdiction over Facebook Inc. and (ii) that there is no urgency to justify summary proceedings. The case is still pending before the courts on the merits.

In relation to the number of prosecutions last year, no information about individual complaints is available once the files are closed by the Commission.

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ePrivacy | Marketing and cookies

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National Legislation

ePrivacy laws

Belgian ePrivacy laws are contained in the Code of Economic Law (the “CEL”) and the Royal Decree of 4 April 2003 on the sending of advertising by e-mail (the “RD”), with regard to e-mails, all of which implemented Article 13 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive.

Belgian law has been amended to implement some, but not all, the amendments to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive.

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Cookies

Conditions for use of cookies

The cookie requirements in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive have been implemented into Belgian law. It is only possible to use cookies if: (i) clear and specific information has been provided to the individual regarding the purposes of the data processing and their rights, all in accordance with the general requirements of the DPA; and (ii) the individual provides consent after receiving this information. These restrictions do not apply to cookies that are strictly necessary for a service requested by an individual. Last, users must be allowed to withdraw their consent free of charge.

Regulatory guidance on the use of cookies

As in most other Member States, the law does not specify how consent from users should be obtained. This matter has to be clarified through regulatory guidance. The Commission reviewing the draft bill opined that consent may not be obtained through current browser settings.

It also released a recommendation in February 2015 which provides detailed guidance regarding the use of cookies, including the way to obtain valid consent. This requires an affirmative action by the user who must have a chance to review the cookie policy beforehand. This policy must detail each category of cookies with their purposes, the categories of information stored, the retention period, how to delete them and any disclosures of information to third parties.

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Marketing by E-mail

Conditions for direct marketing by e-mail to individual subscribers

The CEL prohibits the use of e-mails for advertising purposes without prior, free, specific and informed consent of the addressees. Such consent can be revoked at any time, without any justification or any cost for the addressee.

Conditions for direct marketing by e-mail to corporate subscribers

The sending of direct marketing e-mails does not require consent if they are sent to a legal entity using “impersonal” electronic contact details (e.g. info@company.be). The use of addresses such as john.smith@company.be, however, remains subject to the requirement for prior consent.

Exemptions and other issues

It is permitted to send e-mail for the purposes of direct marketing if the similar products and services exemption applies. The CEL also prohibits direct marketing e-mails from being sent if: (i) the identity of the sender is disguised or concealed; or (ii) an opt-out address is not provided. The sender must also include the eCommerce information.

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Marketing by Telephone

Conditions for direct marketing by telephone to individual subscribers (excludes automated calls)

Marketing calls to individual subscribers are prohibited in relation to subscribers who object to such marketing calls.

The CEL created an obligation on network operators to enable subscribers to exercise their opt-out right, free of charges. The CEL requires the setting up of a file in which every opt-out request by the subscribers is registered. The operator must give access to this file to the persons involved in direct marketing activities. Such an opt-out list has been put in place on behalf of the industry by the Belgian Direct Marketing Association (the “BDMA”).

By signing the so-called “Ne m’appelez plus/Bell me niet meer” list, subscribers indicate that they no longer wish to receive direct marketing by phone. Phone calls for direct marketing purposes to a phone number which is listed in the “Ne m’appelez plus/Bell me niet meer” list are prohibited.

The BDMA has also put in place another opt-out list which is not set forth in the law. The so called “Robinson list” follows the same principles but covers marketing by mail. BDMA members undertake not to use these subscribers' addresses for marketing purposes.

Conditions for direct marketing by telephone to corporate subscribers (excludes automated calls)

Non-automated marketing calls to corporate subscribers are prohibited in relation to subscribers who object to such marketing calls.

Exemptions and other issues

No exemptions apply.

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