CJEU - T-709/21 - WhatsApp Ireland v European Data Protection Board

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CJEU - T-709/21 WhatsApp Ireland v European Data Protection Board
Cjeulogo.png
Court: CJEU
Jurisdiction: European Union
Relevant Law: Article 4(1) GDPR
Article 12(1) GDPR
Article 13(1)(d) GDPR
Article 65 GDPR
Article 65(1)(a) GDPR
Article 83 GDPR
Article 41 CFR
Article 48 CFR
Decided:
Parties: EDPB
Case Number/Name: T-709/21 WhatsApp Ireland v European Data Protection Board
European Case Law Identifier:
Reference from:
Language: 24 EU Languages
Original Source: Judgement
Initial Contributor: n/a

The CJEU dismissed WhatsApp's direct action for annulment of an EDPB decision for lack of standing. The Court considered that WhatsApp was not directly concerned by the contested decision as required under Article 263 TFEU.

English Summary[edit | edit source]

Facts[edit | edit source]

Following the entry into force of the GDPR, the Irish DPA received complaints from users and non-users (the data subjects) of the ‘WhatsApp’ messaging service concerning the processing of personal data by WhatsApp Ireland Ltd (the controller). The Irish DPA, in its capacity as lead supervisory authority, started an investigation into the controller’s compliance with the obligation of transparency and the obligation to provide information with regard to individuals.

Following that investigation, the Irish DPA submitted a draft decision to all the other supervisory authorities of the Member States concerned. Since no consensus was reached on that draft, the Irish DPA referred the matter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB).

On 28 July 2021, the EDPB adopted a binding decision[1], in which it ruled on the matters which, in its view, had been the subject of relevant and reasoned objections by some of those authorities. After receiving that decision, the Irish DPA adopted a final decision on 20 August 2021, in which it found that the controller had infringed certain provisions of the GDPR. The Irish DPA imposed corrective measures on the controller, in particular administrative fines for a cumulative amount of €225 million.

The controller, in parallel, challenged the final decision before an Irish court and requested that the Court annul the contested decision in its entirety or, in the alternative, annul the relevant parts of that decision.

Holding[edit | edit source]

As a preliminary point, the Court mentioned three conditions that must be met for an applicant (other than the ‘privileged’ applicants pursuant to Article 263(2) TFEU) to challenge an act, where it is not the addressee. First, the act must have binding legal effects capable of affecting the interests of the applicant by bringing about a distinct change in his legal position. Second, the act must be of direct concern to the applicant and, third, the applicant must be individually concerned by that act.

Binding legal effects[edit | edit source]

In that regard, the Court considered that the contested decision did not in itself change the controller’s legal position. Unlike the final decision of the Irish DPA, the contested decision was not directly enforceable against the controller. It constituted a preparatory act in a procedure, which must be closed by the adoption of a final decision.

Moreover, the Court held that the contested decision had no legal effect against the controller that was independent of the final decision of the Irish DPA. All the assessments made in the binding decision were repeated in the final one, and the binding decision had no effect that was independent of the content of the final decision. Thus, the fact that an intermediate act expressed the definitive position of an authority that would have to be taken up in the final decision, did not necessarily mean that that intermediate act itself changed the applicant’s legal position.

Individual concern[edit | edit source]

The Court noted that, in the light of the nature of the contested act, which is an individual act, the controller was individually concerned by the contested decision. It related to certain aspects of a draft final decision of the Irish supervisory authority concerning it specifically. Contrary to what was argued by the EDPB, the contested decision was not limited to setting out principles or the interpretation of certain provisions of the GDPR that might concern any controller.

In the contested decision, the EDPB ruled on the controller’s compliance with some of its obligations under the GDPR, regar a form of processing carried out solely by WhatsApp, and rules on certain corrective measures to be imposed on WhatsApp, in particular on certain aspects of the determination of the administrative fines to be imposed on it.

The contested decision is thus specific to the controller. Even though it included a statement or reiteration of principles and interpretations of a general nature.

Direct concern[edit | edit source]

Next, the Court observed that the controller was not directly concerned by the contested decision. The Court noted that a measure was of direct concern to an applicant who is not an addressee, if it (1) directly affected that applicant’s legal situation and, (2) left no discretion to its addressees, who were entrusted with the task of implementing it. Such implementation being automatic and resulting from EU rules without the application of other intermediate rules.

Regarding the first condition, the Court recalled that the contested decision was not enforceable against the controller in a way that would impose obligations on the controller without further procedural steps. The Court held that, the contested decision was not the final step of the full procedure provided for by the GDPR. With regard to the second condition, the Court found that it left a measure of discretion to the Irish DPA as to the content of the final decision, in particular to establish the amount of the administrative fines.

Lastly, the Court noted that the inadmissibility of the controller’s action was consistent with the logic of the system of judicial remedies established by the TEU and the TFEU. The Court stated that the TFEU established a complete system of legal remedies designed to ensure judicial review of the legality of acts of the European Union, in which the national courts also participate. In particular, the possibility of bringing a direct action for annulment before the CJEU, or of making a request for a preliminary ruling. Individuals can challenge the validity of such an act before the national court. The national court, in turn, was able to make a request to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. Individuals can however not, by reason of the conditions for admissibility, directly challenge EU acts before the Courts of the European Union.

The Court stated that the logic of that system was that the judicial action of the Court of Justice of the European Union and that of the national courts complement each other effectively. The Courts of the European Union and the national courts should not be required to rule concurrently, in parallel proceedings, on the validity of the same EU act.

In conclusion, the Court, for the first time, ruled on an application for annulment of a binding decision of the EDPB. The Court dismissed the action brought by the controller as inadmissible, because (1) it was not directed against an act that is open to challenge under Article 263 TFEU and (2) the controller was individually, but not directly concerned by the contested decision, within the meaning of the criteria for locus standi laid down in that article. The validity of the contested decision may be examined by a national court hearing an action against the subsequent final decision that closes the procedure and is adopted at national level.

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  1. binding decision 1/2021 of the EDPB of 28 July 2021