Datatilsynet - 2019-32-0910

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Datatilsynet - 2019-32-0910
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Authority: Datatilsynet (Denmark)
Jurisdiction: Denmark
Relevant Law: Article 6(1)(e) GDPR

Article 5(1)(c) GDPR

Type: Complaint
Outcome: Rejected
Decided: n/a
Published: 25.10. 2019
Fine: none
Parties: Unknown municipality Vs. anonymous
National Case Number: 2019-32-0910
European Case Law Identifier: n/a
Appeal: n/a
Original Language: Danish
Original Source: Datatilsynet (in DK)

The Datatilsynet confirmed that a municipality had a legal basis to process information about citizens who used a “type-ahead” search function on the municipality’s website.

English Summary[edit | edit source]

Facts[edit | edit source]

The DPA examined a complaint against a search function which suggested certain search suggestions automatically. Thus, when entering certain words, the complainant’s name was automatically suggested and two search results appeared in the search engine.

Dispute[edit | edit source]

Is there a legal basis to the processing related to information about citizens who used a “type-ahead” search function on the municipality’s website?

Holding[edit | edit source]

The Datatilsynet confirmed that a municipality had a legal basis to process information about citizens who used a “type-ahead” search function on the municipality’s website under Article 6(1)(e) GDPR. It also found that the purpose of this function was to offer a better service to citizens and that only the keyword was stored in the search engine, not any user’s details; in accordance with Article 5(1)(c) GDPR.

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English Machine Translation of the Decision[edit | edit source]

The decision below is a machine translation of the original. Please refer to the Danish original for more details.

Complaint about search function on the municipality's website
Published 25-10-2019
Decision Public authorities

The Data Inspectorate has decided in a case where a citizen complained that a municipality processed information about the citizen in connection with a "type-ahead" search function on the municipality's website. In the case, the Data Inspectorate found that there was a legal basis for the data processing in question.

J.nr. 2019-32-0910
Summary

The Data Inspectorate has decided in a case where a citizen complained that a municipality processed information about the citizen in connection with a "type-ahead" search function on the municipality's website. In the case, the Data Inspectorate found that there was a legal basis for the data processing in question.

The search function in question suggested certain search suggestions automatically. Thus, when entering certain words, the complainant's name was automatically suggested and two search results appeared in the search.

In this case, the municipality had stated that it was a "type-ahead" function, which is used on many municipal, regional and state websites. The purpose of the function was to offer a better service to citizens. The municipality also stated that when a user performs a search, only the entered keyword is stored in the search engine.

In its decision, the Danish Data Protection Authority emphasized, among other things, the municipality's assessment that the search function is a tool that must support the municipality's compliance with the general obligation to provide guidance to citizens in connection with content-heavy websites that it referred to.
Decision

The Data Inspectorate hereby returns to the case where X (hereafter complained of) on YX 2019 has addressed the audit of Y Municipality's processing of personal data on complaints in connection with a search function on Y Municipality's website.
1. Decision

After a review of the case, the Data Inspectorate finds that the relevant processing of information in Y Municipality takes place within the framework of the rules of the Data Protection Regulation.

The following is a detailed examination of the case and a justification for the Danish Data Protection Agency's decision.
2. Case making

The Y Municipality website has a search function which, upon entering, suggests specific search suggestions. When you enter, for example, "XX" in the search box on the website, the complainant's name "XXX XXX" and "XXX YYY" is automatically suggested.

One of the total of two search results that appears when searching for the complainant's name "XXX XXX" is a publication with the heading "Z", which, however, has no connection to the complaints. The search result is seen as a result of the publication mentioning persons with the surname "A" and the first name "B" respectively. The second search result relates to the publication "Q", which contains the complainant's name.

On July 11, 2019, Y Municipality issued an opinion on the case, which complaints on July 16, 2019 sent its comments to.
2.1. Y Municipality's remarks

About the search function, Y Municipality has generally stated that it is a "type-ahead" function that is used on many municipal, regional and state authorities' websites. The solution has been used since 2011 on Y Municipality's website.

Y Municipality has stated that it is responsible for the data processing of the personal data that the search function entails. The processing is based on Article 6 (2) of the Data Protection Regulation. 1 (e).

Further, Y Municipality has stated about the purpose of the "type-ahead" search function that it aims to offer a better service to the citizens of the municipality by making the search easier and faster by showing the user the search terms on which the website can deliver results. Furthermore, Y Municipality has stated that website users expect and benefit from a function as "type-ahead" especially on content-heavy websites, and that the search function can also help users with cognitive challenges.

The feature works so that previously used (good / popular) keywords are used by the search engine to suggest what words a user wants to search for. Thus, when a user enters parts of a keyword, a lookup is made in the search history, and the search engine displays the previously searched words of all users whose keywords have matched the keyword used. The reason why the search engine proposes the complainant's name is a consequence of this having been searched for in the past.

When a user performs a search, only the entered keyword is stored in the search engine. Y Municipality has thus stated that "type-ahead" does not process personal data on complaints. All keywords are stored as simple text strings, so it is basically impossible for the feature to distinguish whether the keyword is a personal name or something else. However, there is a built-in functionality that ensures that no social security numbers are displayed. Furthermore, a sorting of personal names previously applied for would, in the municipality's opinion, impair the service.



3130/5000
2.2. Complainant's comments

The complainant has generally stated that the complainant's name cannot be a popular keyword, nor is there a logical or semantic connection between "XX" and "XXX YYY". Furthermore, complainants have stated that one search result is not relevant in relation to the search on the complainant's name.

Thus, complaints are that the keyword should not be stored and that the presentation of the complainant's name is not proportionate or in accordance with the basic principles of Article 5 of the Data Protection Regulation.
3. Justification for the Danish Data Protection Agency's decision

The Data Inspectorate finds that in connection with the search function on Y Municipality's website processing of personal data about complaints in the form of complainant's name, since the complainant's name is of such a special nature that it can be attributed to complaints, and Y Municipality can be assumed to be able to identify complains based solely on the name.

The Danish Data Protection Agency assumes that the processing does not deal with sensitive personal data.

It follows from Article 6 (1) of the Data Protection Regulation. (C) Paragraph 1 (e) that such personal data may be processed if processing is necessary for the performance of a task in the best interest of the community or is a matter of public authority imposed by the data controller.

The Data Inspectorate finds no basis for overriding Y Municipality's assessment that the processing can be done within the framework of Article 6 (2) of the Data Protection Regulation. 1 (e).

In doing so, the Data Inspectorate has assumed that Y Municipality has assessed that the search function and the related processing of personal data are related to the exercise of authority by the municipality, and that the processing is necessary for this exercise of authority.

In this connection, the Data Inspectorate has emphasized the information on the purpose of the search function, as Y Municipality considers the search function as a tool to support the municipality's compliance with the general duty of guidance towards the citizens.

The Data Inspectorate finds no basis for denying that the search function is a widespread and effective search tool for content-heavy websites that it concerned.

The complainant's remark that one search result is not relevant in relation to the search on the complainant's name cannot, in the EDPS's opinion, lead to another assessment. In this connection, the Data Inspectorate notes that the search result ("Z") appears on the basis of a semantic search for the individual text strings contained in the complainant's name.

The Data Inspectorate notes that, in principle, complaints alone by entering their own name in the search box could have created a basis for the search engine to store the keywords used.

Accordingly, the Data Inspectorate finds no basis for violating Y Municipality's assessment that the processing complies with the basic processing principles in Article 5 of the Data Protection Regulation, including the principle that personal data must be sufficient, relevant and limited to what is necessary for the purposes. to which they are processed ("data minimization"), cf. Article 5 (2). 1 (c).