Reform of Belgian Data Protection Authority still not put into practice
Eight months after the arrival of the GDPR, the renewed Belgian Data Protection Authority still does not have an Executive Committee. The reason for this is that no candidate has been found with sufficient knowledge of the German language. As a result, the authority cannot start proactively investigating companies.
In the run-up to the entry into application of the GDPR in May last year, the Belgian Parliament adopted the DPA Act creating the new Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) as the successor of the former Privacy Commission. To ensure that it would be able exercise its newly acquired powers effectively, the DPA was divided into six bodies, among which the Executive Committee (Directiecomité – Comité de Direction).
The Executive Committee is composed of the leaders of the other five bodies:
- the director of the General Secretariat;
- the director of the Knowledge Center;
- the director of the Front-line Service;
- the director of the Inspection Body (Inspector-General); and
- the president of the Dispute Chamber.
The DPA Act provides that these 5 members must have a working knowledge of the second national language (French/Dutch) and at least one of them must have a working knowledge of German. Since the DPA will cooperate with authorities of other EU Member States, all members should also have a working knowledge of English.
Willem Debeuckelaere, who is currently acting as head of the DPA, has communicated that the authority is still looking for a candidate with sufficient knowledge of German. Previous language tests via Selor, the government's selection agency, did not result in a candidate who speaks sufficient German. As a result, the Executive Committee cannot start its enforcement activities. This makes it considerably more difficult to process complaints and inspect companies’ GDPR compliance level.
In addition, due to the absence of an Executive Committee, the Inspection Body does not have a separate director either. There are now two inspectors who, with the assistance of the secretariat, mainly focus on dealing with complaints. Proactive inspections, as already happening in the Netherlands, can therefore not yet be carried out in Belgium.
As a result, Belgium is lagging behind in enforcing the GDPR. In Germany, Portugal and France, the respective authorities have already imposed the first fines. A German social network was fined EUR 20.000 for not having sufficiently secured its users' data. In Portugal, a hospital was fined EUR 400.000 for using certain data without permission. In France, Google was sanctioned with a fine of 50 million EUR for lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent.
StéphanieDe SmedtSenior associate Attorney at Law
Stéphanie De Smedt is senior associate within the Litigation & Risk Management Practice Group of our Brussels office.
She is head of the IP/IT & Data Protection Team in Belgium and is team leader of the firm-wide Healthcare and Life Sciences Team.
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