February 22, 2024

How to achieve compliance with France’s data protection laws

How to achieve compliance with France’s data protection laws

France, with its rich history of championing liberty and equality, also boasts one of the earliest data privacy protection laws. The French Data Protection Act (Loi Informatique et Libertés), which was first enacted in 1978, influenced modern-day privacy laws across various jurisdictions and shaped the global conversation on digital privacy and accountability.

France’s legal framework for data protection is primarily based on two significant sources – the French Data Protection Act (Loi Informatique et Libertés) and the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The French Data Protection Act has undergone several revisions over the years, with the latest one in 2018 aimed at keeping the law current and relevant to the evolving data protection demands. The GDPR is an EU law that applies directly to all member states, including France. Both laws complement each other to ensure the secure handling and processing of personal data of French residents.

In this article, we will review these policies extensively and show how InCountry can help your business maintain compliance in France without breaking a sweat.

Who needs to comply with French data protection laws?

France’s data protection law applies to the following types of organizations and interests:

Organizations in France

All organizations founded in France are bound by the French data protection policies, regardless of where their data processing happens. Failing to comply with these established policies will attract applicable penalties.

Organizations that collect, store, or process French residents’ data

All organizations, whether founded in France or not, are mandated to comply with the various French privacy laws if they are involved in collecting, processing, or storing the private data of French residents. This also applies to organizations that are not physically located in France.

Organizations that monitor the behavior of French residents

All organizations that collect data and monitor the behavior of French residents, such as website visits, online advertising, social media activity of French users, etc., are expected to comply with these data protection policies.

What French data privacy laws do you need to know?

As already mentioned, the major data protection laws applicable to companies that collect, store, or process private data of French residents are the European General Data Protection Regulation and the French Data Protection Act (Loi Informatique et Libertés). They provide guidelines for data sovereignty compliance in France and across Europe (for the GDPR). We will discuss them in detail in this section.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

The GDPR is a comprehensive data protection law that governs data privacy in the European Union. It was enacted by the European Union (EU) in May 2018, to harmonize data privacy laws across member states and to boost the protection of the private data of EU residents. In fact, most data privacy laws across Europe, prominently the German data privacy laws are modeled according to the dictates of the GDPR.

Under GDPR, individuals have enhanced rights over their personal data, including the right to access, rectify, and erase the information held by organizations. Additionally, businesses are obligated to obtain explicit consent before processing personal data and must implement robust security measures to prevent data breaches.

We will review some of its key provisions as follows:

  • Territorial scope

The GDPR applies to organizations located within the EU/EEA that process personal data, as well as to organizations outside the EU/EEA that offer goods or services to individuals in the EU/EEA or monitor their behavior.

  • Definition of personal data

According to the guidelines of the GDPR, personal data includes any information that pertains to a known or identifiable individual (data subject). Such data spans from names and identification numbers to location details, online identifiers, and various characteristics pertinent to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural, or social aspects of a person’s identity.

  • Lawfulness, transparency, and fairness

In handling personal data, it’s critical to do so in a lawful, fair, and transparent manner. Consequently, an organization needs a valid reason for processing such data. Under the GDPR, valid reasons for processing the personal data of a data subject include the following:

  1. By obtaining consent,
  2. Fulfilling contractual obligations,
  3. Complying with legal requirements,
  4. Safeguarding vital interests,
  5. Carrying out public duties,
  6. Pursuing legitimate interests.
  • Purpose limitation

When gathering personal data, it should be done with clear, specific, and legitimate intentions and not used afterward in ways that don’t align with those original purposes.

  • Data minimization

Businesses ought to gather and handle only the personal data that is sufficient, pertinent, and restricted to what is essential for the intended purposes of processing.

  • Data accuracy

Personal data must be precise and, when needed, regularly updated. Organizations are responsible for ensuring accuracy and should promptly correct or remove any inaccurate information.

  • Storage limitation

All private data should only be kept for as long as they are useful for the purpose for which they were collected. Immediately after that goal has been met, the data should be erased.

  • Data integrity and confidentiality

Organizations are required to provide adequate data security for all private data they collect from EU residents. They are to apply all necessary data protection tools to ensure the security of data in their custody. They are also to ensure that these data are handled with the utmost confidentiality.

  • Data subject rights

Data subjects refer to individuals whose data has been collected by an organization for some legal purpose. The GDPR guarantees the rights of data subjects, and they are as follows:

  1. Right to be Informed.
  2. Right of Access.
  3. Right to Rectification.
  4. Right to Erasure (Right to be Forgotten).
  5. Right to Restrict Processing.
  6. Right to Data Portability.
  7. Right to Object.
  8. Rights Related to Automated Decision Making and Profiling.
  • Accountability & governance

To adhere to the GDPR, organizations must showcase compliance through the establishment of suitable policies, procedures, and documentation. They should also conduct data protection impact assessments (DPIAs) when deemed necessary and appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) under specific circumstances.

  • Data transfers

Data transfers outside EU member states are permitted under the GDPR. However, the organization must implement necessary safeguards to ensure the security of the data being transferred to a country that does not meet the minimum requirements for data security.

  • Data breach notification

The GDPR requires organizations to notify all relevant authorities of a data breach that could pose a risk to the rights of data subjects within 72 hours after it has occurred. Data subjects must also be notified promptly of a data breach that has the possibility of affecting their rights and freedom.

French Data Protection Act (Loi Informatique et Libertés)

The French Data Protection Act, also known as the “Loi Informatique et Libertés”, is a crucial framework for data protection in France. This legislation has undergone several revisions to accommodate the waves of technological evolution and align with EU regulations on data privacy, especially the GDPR. 

In the following section, we will examine some of the essential aspects of the Loi Informatique et Libertés.

  • Applicable jurisdiction

It applies to the processing of personal data carried out in the context of activities related to the management of files or databases containing personal data.

  • Consent and permissions

Similar to the GDPR, this privacy act requires that data processing should be based on the consent of the data subject or some other legal recognized by the law.

  • Purpose limitation

Personal data should be gathered for clearly defined, explicit, and lawful objectives, and subsequent processing should not deviate from these initial purposes.

  • Data subject rights

This law grants French residents several rights regarding their personal data. These rights are similar to the rights provided by the GDPR, and they include the right to access, correct, and object to the processing of their data, etc.

  • Data security

Data controllers must ensure the security and confidentiality of personal data by implementing suitable technical and organizational measures.

  • Data transfers

The law governs the transfer of personal data outside the EU/EEA, mandating adequate safeguards when transferring data to countries lacking sufficient protection measures.

  • Data protection authority

The French Data Protection Authority, CNIL, oversees the enforcement of the Data Protection Act, ensuring compliance, investigating complaints, and imposing penalties for breaches.

  • Data breach notification guidelines 

Under the stipulations of the French Data Protection Act, it is incumbent upon all data handlers to promptly notify the regulatory authorities once they become aware of any data breaches. Additionally, these data handlers are obligated to inform the affected data subjects about the breach. 

However, in cases where individually notifying each data subject would be impractical due to resource constraints, data handlers have the option to issue a public announcement. 

  • Requirement for Data Protection Officer (DPO) 

In accordance with France’s data protection legislation, all data handlers are mandated to designate a Data Protection Officer (DPO) possessing the requisite credentials and qualifications. The CNIL advises data handlers to appoint a DPO who fulfills the following criteria: lives within French jurisdiction, and possesses the necessary legal qualifications for the role.

  • Requirements for registrations

Previously, data controllers had to register their data processing with CNIL, but this requirement has changed due to GDPR, with only certain activities necessitating prior authorization from CNIL now.

A thorough analysis of the French privacy laws reveals intricate layers of protection for personal data, highlighting the nation’s commitment to safeguarding individual privacy rights in the digital age.

Data residency requirements in France

Data residency requirements by country differ, with some having stricter residency requirements. Fortunately, the Loi Informatique et Libertés and the GDPR do not explicitly require that all private data of French residents should remain within the country or location where they were obtained. Rather, it places special requirements for data transfers should an organization feel the need to transfer private data outside France. The GDPR allows for free and easy data transfer within EU/EEA countries and places strict requirements for data transfer outside the EU/EEA states to ensure the security of the data.

Furthermore, although the French privacy law does not prohibit storing data in cloud services located outside France, companies should ensure appropriate safeguards and legal mechanisms like Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) to comply with GDPR requirements for cross-border transfers. In the next section, we will discuss the requirements for cross-border data transfers.

A careful perusal of these requirements reveals the advantages of French privacy laws over other countries. These advantages include flexibility and less strict residency requirements.

French cross-border data transfer requirements

The French regulations for transferring data across borders are mainly dictated by the General Data Protection Regulation, which is uniformly applicable across all EU member states. Please note that data transfer within the EU/EEA states is less strict since they are all governed by the provisions of the GDPR. However, data transfers outside EU/EEA states can only be done following the provisions or requirements laid out by the GDPR. We will review some of those key provisions or requirements below;

  • Adequacy decision

The European Commission has the authority to grant adequacy decisions for certain non-EEA countries or territories, affirming their ability to uphold an adequate level of protection for personal data. When transferring data to countries with such adequacy decisions in place, it is deemed lawful, and there is no need for additional safeguards to be implemented.

  • Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs)

To safeguard personal data when transferring it to inadequate countries, organizations have the option to utilize standard contractual clauses sanctioned by the European Commission. These clauses establish data protection responsibilities for both the entity exporting the data and the one importing it.

  • Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs)

Multinational corporations are permitted to set up binding corporate rules governing the internal transfer of personal data within their group of companies. However, these rules must undergo approval from the pertinent data protection authorities and ensure sufficient safeguards for cross-border data transfers before they can become effective.

  • Approved codes of conduct and certification mechanisms

The GDPR permits the creation of sanctioned codes of conduct and certification mechanisms aimed at safeguarding international data transfers. Complying with these codes or certification processes can establish a lawful foundation for data transfers.

  • Derogations

Regarding data privacy regulations, derogations refer to circumstances where processing personal data without meeting all the usual criteria is permitted. Under special conditions, organizations can utilize derogations outlined in Article 49 of the GDPR to transfer personal data outside the EEA without fulfilling the standard requirements. These derogations encompass scenarios such as obtaining explicit consent from the data subject, transferring data as necessary to fulfill contractual obligations, or ensuring the protection of vital interests.

  • Seeking consent from the CNIL

In certain instances, organizations might need authorization from the appropriate data protection authority, like the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL), before transferring personal data outside the EEA. This step becomes necessary when the transfer doesn’t align with any of the mentioned mechanisms or derogations.

As a business leader, it’s critical for your organization to thoroughly evaluate the legal grounds for transferring personal data outside the EEA and to establish suitable safeguards to align with the GDPR. Neglecting compliance with cross-border data transfer stipulations can lead to substantial fines and penalties enforced by data protection authorities.

How to comply with data protection laws in France — InCountry’s approach

Discovering the right path to compliance can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to data protection regulations. However, it is imperative to understand the significance of adhering to these laws and the positive impact they can have on your businesses. InCountry offers an effortless solution to maintain compliance with the French Data Protection Act and GDPR. 

First, our Data Residency as a Service is an excellent solution that will help store all your private data in France and still give you remote access to them from any other location around the world.

Furthermore, our elaborate security protocols ensure that your data, whether in transit or at rest, is secured. InCountry implements industry-standard security measures like encryption at rest and in transit, access controls, and intrusion detection to protect your data.

The bottom line is that InCountry helps you manage your company’s private data, and stay compliant with all of France’s Data Protection laws while allowing to focus on other critical aspects of your business. 

Contact us today; Let’s embark on this journey together and empower your businesses to achieve its data residency and transfer goals.