Russia: New Law requires express consent for making personal data available to the public and for any subsequent dissemination

By Gabriela Zanfir-Fortuna and Regina Iminova

Amendments to the Russian general data protection law (Federal Law No. 152-FZ on Personal Data) adopted at the end of 2020 enter into force today (Monday, March 1st), with some of them having the effective date postponed until July 1st. The changes are part of a legislative package that is also seeing the Criminal Code being amended to criminalize disclosure of personal data about “protected persons” (several categories of government officials). The amendments to the data protection law envision the introduction of consent based restrictions for any organization or individual that publishes personal data initially, as well as for those that collect and further disseminate personal data that has been distributed on the basis of consent in the public sphere, such as on social media, blogs or any other sources. 

The amendments:

  • introduce a new category of personal data, defined as “personal data allowed by the data subject to be disseminated” (hereinafter PDD – personal data allowed for dissemination);
  • include strict rules for initially making personal data available to an unlimited number of persons, but also for further processing PDD by other organizations or individuals, including for further disseminating this type of data – all of this must be done on the basis of specific, affirmative and separately collected consent from the data subject, the existence of which must be proved at any point of the use and further use;
  • introduce the possibility of the Russian regulator enforcing this law (“Roskomnadzor”) to record in a centralized information system the consent obtained for dissemination of personal data to an unlimited number of persons;
  • introduce an absolute right to opt out of the dissemination of personal data, “at any time”.

The potential impact of the amendments is broad. The new law prima facie affects social media services, online publishers, streaming services, bloggers, or any other entity who might be considered as making personal data available to “an indefinite number of persons.” They now have to collect and prove they have separate consent for making personal data publicly available, as well as for further publishing or disseminating PDD which has been lawfully published by other parties originally.

Importantly, the new provisions in the Personal Data Law dedicated to PDD do not include any specific exception for processing PDD for journalistic purposes. The only exception recognized is processing PDD “in the state and public interests defined by the legislation of the Russian Federation”. The Explanatory Note accompanying the amendments confirms that consent is the exclusive lawful ground that can justify dissemination and further processing of PDD and that the only exception to this rule is the one mentioned above, for state or public interests as defined by law. It is thus expected that the amendments might create a chilling effect on freedom of expression, especially when also taking into account the corresponding changes to the Criminal Code.

The new rules seem to be part of a broader effort in Russia to regulate information shared online and available to the public. In this context, it is noteworthy that other amendments to Law 149-FZ on Information, IT and Protection of Information solely impacting social media services were also passed into law in December 2020, and already entered into force on February 1st, 2021. Social networks are now required to monitor content and “restrict access immediately” of users that post information about state secrets, justification of terrorism or calls to terrorism, pornography, promoting violence and cruelty, or obscene language, manufacturing of drugs, information on methods to commit suicide, as well as calls for mass riots. 

Below we provide a closer look at the amendments to the Personal Data Law that entered into force on March 1st, 2021. 

A new category of personal data is defined

The new law defines a category of “personal data allowed by the data subject to be disseminated” (PDD), the definition being added as paragraph 1.1 to Article 3 of the Law. This new category of personal data is defined as “personal data to which an unlimited number of persons have access to, and which is provided by the data subject by giving specific consent for the dissemination of such data, in accordance with the conditions in the Personal Data Law” (unofficial translation). 

The old law had a dedicated provision that referred to how this type of personal data could be lawfully processed, but it was vague and offered almost no details. In particular, Article 6(10) of the Personal Data Law (the provision corresponding to Article 6 GDPR on lawful grounds for processing) provided that processing of personal data is lawful when the data subject gives access to their personal data to an unlimited number of persons. The amendments abrogate this paragraph, before introducing an entirely new article containing a detailed list of conditions for processing PDD only on the basis of consent (the new Article 10.1).

Perhaps in order to avoid misunderstanding on how the new rules for processing PDD fit with the general conditions on lawful grounds for processing personal data, a new paragraph 2 is introduced in Article 10 of the law, which details conditions for processing special categories of personal data, to clarify that processing of PDD “shall be carried out in compliance with the prohibitions and conditions provided for in Article 10.1 of this Federal Law”.

Specific, express, unambiguous and separate consent is required

Under the new law, “data operators” that process PDD must obtain specific and express consent from data subjects to process personal data, which includes any use, dissemination of the data. Notably, under the Russian law, “data operators” designate both controllers and processors in the sense of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or businesses and service providers in the sense of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Specifically, under Article 10.1(1), the data operator must ensure that it obtains a separate consent dedicated to dissemination, other than the general consent for processing personal data or other type of consent. Importantly, “under no circumstances” may individuals’ silence or inaction be taken to indicate their consent to the processing of their personal data for dissemination, under Article 10.1(8).

In addition, the data subject must be provided with the possibility to select the categories of personal data which they permit for dissemination. Moreover, the data subject also must be provided with the possibility to establish “prohibitions on the transfer (except for granting access) of [PDD] by the operator to an unlimited number of persons, as well as prohibitions on processing or conditions of processing (except for access) of these personal data by an unlimited number of persons”, per Article 10.1(9). It seems that these prohibitions refer to specific categories of personal data provided by the data subject to the operator (out of a set of personal data, some categories may be authorized for dissemination, while others may be prohibited from dissemination).

If the data subject discloses personal data to an unlimited number of persons without providing to the operator the specific consent required by the new law, not only the original operator, but all subsequent persons or operators that processed or further disseminated the PDD have the burden of proof to “provide evidence of the legality of subsequent dissemination or other processing”, under Article 10.1(2), which seems to imply that they must prove consent was obtained for dissemination (probatio diabolica in this case). According to the Explanatory Note to the amendments, it seems that the intention was indeed to turn the burden of proof of legality of processing PDD from data subjects to the data operators, since the Note makes a specific reference to the fact that before the amendments the burden of proof rested with data subjects.

If the separate consent for dissemination of personal data is not obtained by the operator, but other conditions for lawfulness of processing are met, the personal data can be processed by the operator, but without the right to distribute or disseminate them – Article 10.1.(4). 

A Consent Management Platform for PDD, managed by the Roskomnadzor

The express consent to process PDD can be given directly to the operator or through a special “information system” (which seems to be a consent management platform) of the Roskomnadzor, according to Article 10.1(6). The provisions related to setting up this consent platform for PDD will enter into force on July 1st, 2021. The Roskomnadzor is expected to provide technical details about the functioning of this consent management platform and guidelines on how it is supposed to be used in the following months. 

Absolute right to opt-out of dissemination of PDD

Notably, the dissemination of PDD can be halted at any time, on request of the individual, regardless of whether the dissemination is lawful or not, according to Article 12.1(12). This type of request is akin to a withdrawal of consent. The provision includes some requirements for the content of such a request. For instance, it requires writing contact information and listing the personal data that should be terminated. Consent to the processing of the provided personal data is terminated once the operator receives the opt-out request – Article 10.1(13).

A request to opt-out of having personal data disseminated to the public when this is done unlawfully (without the data subject’s specific, affirmative consent) can also be made through a Court, as an alternative to submitting it directly to the data operator. In this case, the operator must terminate the transmission of or access to personal data within three business days from when such demand was received or within the timeframe set in the decision of the court which has come into effect – Article 10.1(14).

A new criminal offense: The prohibition on disclosure of personal data about protected persons

Sharing personal data or information about intelligence officers and their personal property is now a criminal offense under the new rules, which amended the Criminal Code. The law obliges any operators of personal data, including government departments and mobile operators, to ensure the confidentiality of personal information concerning protected persons, their relatives, and their property. Under the new law, “protected persons” include employees of the Investigative Committee, FSB, Federal Protective Service, National Guard, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Ministry of Defense judges, prosecutors, investigators, law enforcement officers and their relatives. Moreover, the list of protected persons can be further detailed by the head of the relevant state body in which the specified persons work.

Previously, the law allowed for the temporary prohibition of the dissemination of personal data of protected persons only in the event of imminent danger in connection with official duties and activities. The new amendments make it possible to take protective measures in the absence of a threat of encroachment on their life, health and property.

What to watch next: New amendments to the general Personal Data Law are on their way in 2021

There are several developments to follow in this fast changing environment. First, at the end of January, the Russian President gave the government until August 1 to create a set of rules for foreign tech companies operating in Russia, including a requirement to open branch offices in the country.

Second, a bill (No. 992331-7) proposing new amendments to the overall framework of the Personal Data Law (No. 152-FZ) was introduced in July 2020 and was the subject of a Resolution that passed in the State Duma on February 16, allowing for a period for amendments to be submitted, until March 16. The bill is on the agenda for a potential vote in May. The changes would entail expanding the possibility to obtain valid consent through other unique identifiers which are currently not accepted by the law, such as unique online IDs, changes to purpose limitation, a possible certification scheme for effective methods to erase personal data and new competences for the Roskomnadzor to establish requirements for deidentification of personal data and specific methods for effective deidentification.

Originally published on 1 March 2021

Source: Future of Privacy Forum

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