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May 28, 2018 | by  | in News |
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GDPR, and Why European Law Affects You

On 25 May, the European Union’s new data privacy laws, or General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), took effect. It’s an unusual piece of legislation, because it applies to all EU citizens and all the companies that process their data. Its incredibly broad terms mean that it has undoubtedly already affected New Zealanders.

Simon Johnson, in a statement to students, said that while Victoria isn’t changing how they use students’ personal information, the University’s Privacy Notice has been updated in light of the new law.

GDPR is an update to previous EU data protection laws from 1995, which were out of date, particularly as they didn’t consider things like location tracking or genetic information. The legislation focuses on the individual’s right to their own data. It means that you need to specifically and explicitly agree to everything a company does with your data, and anything that can be used to identify you; the company can’t tick boxes for you. For instance, it means that receiving email newsletters is something you opt into, rather than out of.

The regulations apply to any company that processes personal data, or outsources that processing. In order to comply, most major companies are significantly revising their privacy policies. The definitions of personal data are astonishingly broad: obviously banks and social media companies have to comply, but any company that might have a contact form or an email newsletter that EU citizens use will have to as well. While EU citizens will be most affected, it is generally easier (and better for public relations) for companies to make the changes across the board.

This legislation predates the Cambridge Analytica fiasco at Facebook earlier this year, where 87 million Facebook users had their information sold to third parties through an app. Facebook is taking the opportunity to further advertise how they prioritise data protection, and how users have a right to know all of the information Facebook has about them. If something similar happened this week, involving the data of EU citizens, Facebook would have to pay a fine of 20 million euros, or 4% of its annual global turnover, whichever was greater.

GDPR works against companies, because of the stringent regulations that they must comply with. The laws apply to companies with EU clients, even if most of the clients are out of the EU. Many companies will have slightly different versions of their rules for EU and non-EU citizens, for instance Facebook has changed its terms of service for people outside the EU and North America, to read that their agreement is no longer with Facebook Ireland, but Facebook Inc. However, they are largely still complying with GDPR globally. Moving the information merely makes them less liable to potential fines from action taken with non-EU citizens. Previously, because Ireland is in the EU and Facebook has a subsidiary there, the information of users — regardless of their citizenship or location — would have been subject to the laws.

GDPR empowers individuals to know who has their data and what they’re doing with it. The regulations are so broad that they are able to affect citizens in countries far beyond the EU bloc. It remains to be seen how much individuals will exercise the rights that the legislation gives them, but at the very least, you’ll be receiving fewer corporate emails.

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