Belgian Data Protection Authority’s first GDPR fine imposed on public official

The Belgian DPA delivered a strong message on 28th May 2019, that data protection is “everyone’s concern” and everyone’s responsibility, by premiering the GDPR’s sanctioning provision in Belgium with a fine of €2,000 imposed on a mayor (‘bourgmestre’) for the illegal utilisation of personal data. 

Purpose Limitation was Breached 

The mayor in question used personal data obtained for the purposes of mayoral operations in an election campaign, in breach of GDPR, particularly the purpose limitation principle, which states that data controllers and/or processors must only collect personal data for a specific, explicit and legitimate purpose. Given the fairly moderate fine, the data the mayor obtained would not have contained special category data (formerly known as sensitive personal data in the UK). The Belgian DPA also looked at other factors when deciding on the severity of the sanction, including the limited number of affected data subjects; nature and gravity of the infringement; and duration.  

‘Not Compatible with Initial Purpose’ 

The Belgian DPA received a complaint from the affected data subjects themselves, whose consent to the processing of their data was based on the assumption it would be used appropriately, in this case for administrative mayoral duties. The plaintiffs and the defendant were heard by the DPA’s Litigation Chamber, which concluded along GPDR lines that ‘the personal data initially collected was not compatible with the purpose for which the data was further used by the mayor.’ 

The decision was signed off by the relatively new Belgian commissioner, David Stevens, as well as the Director of the Litigation Chamber, a Data Protection Authority chamber independent from the rest of the Belgian judicial system. 

Harry Smithson, 3rd June 2019

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