One year of Data Protection Enforcement in France: what the CNIL's Activity Report Reveals


[author: Marianne Le Moullec]

The French Data Protection Authority (“CNIL”) has recently issued its activity report for 2011 ( It provides us with some interesting data and allows us to reflect on the ever-growing importance of privacy and data protection in France. Video-surveillance, the right to be forgotten on the Internet, data breaches and abusive data collection by companies were the key highlights of 2011 and have remained dominant issues in 2012.

159 persons: the workforce of the CNIL. The staff doubled over the last seven years, demonstrating the increasing workload of the CNIL, and this growth seems to have continued in 2012. This is not surprising as the CNIL has been entrusted with two new missions. First, it now has competence to oversee all video-surveillance systems (CCTV) installed on streets and highways. Second, the CNIL is now competent to oversee the notifications of data breaches. Indeed, data controllers in the telecommunication industry have, since 2011, the obligation to report data breaches to the CNIL.

138,979 phone calls: answered by the information service of the CNIL. Formalities (i.e. required filings with the CNIL) also increased with more than 82,000 notifications of data processing (data controllers in France are required to notify the CNIL prior to conducting any data processing.)

5,738 complaints: complaints to the CNIL grew significantly from 2010 to 2011. The CNIL attributes this increase both to its new on-line complaint section available on its website (26% of the complainants are filed on-line), and to the growing interest of individuals in the protection of their personal data. In particular, complaints relating to the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet (i.e., requests for deletion of content) increased by 42% and complaints relating to video-surveillance increased by 30%.

385 audits: the CNIL carried out 25% more audits in 2011 than in 2010 in order to verify the compliance of public and private companies with the data protection law. The CNIL focused its audits on four sectors: 1) security of health data (audits were conducted in health care establishments, health data providers, etc.), 2)debt collection agencies and private investigators, 3) companies that transfer data outside of the European Union, and finally, 4) companies handling consumer data, primarily e-commerce websites.

19 decisions with sanctions: this includes 13 warnings and only 5 financial penalties. Generally the CNIL uses its power to impose sanctions with great prudence. In addition, 65 formal notices to comply were issued.

100 000 euros: this is the largest penalty imposed in 2011. Google was fined 100 000 euros on March 17, 2011 for abusive data collection by “Google cars” that were collecting data from wireless networks for its Street View service. The Google cars collected and recorded not only photographs, but also data transmitted by nearby wireless networks.

11, 600 Twitter followers: the CNIL has 3223 Facebook fans!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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