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19 January 202111 minute read

DLA Piper GDPR fines and data breach survey: January 2021

Over 6,600 data breaches notified to Irish Data Protection Commission in last 12 months
  • Ireland reported 6,615 data breaches notified to regulators, ranking it 6th overall in the survey and 3rd on a per capita basis
  • European Data Protection regulators have imposed EUR158.5 million of fines since 28 January 2020, a 39% increase on the previous 20-month period since the application of GDPR with the Irish Data Protection Commission issuing its first GDPR fines totaling EUR715,000
  • Italy has imposed the highest aggregate fines with France imposing the highest individual fine to date
  • Double digit growth for breach notifications for the second year running with 121,165 breaches notified since 28 January 2020 compared to 101,403 breaches notified in the previous year – a 19% increase
  • Per capita Denmark tops the rankings for data breach notifications

According to DLA Piper's latest annual General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Fines and Data Breach Survey, Ireland reported 6,615 data breaches in the past twelve months to the Irish Data Protection Commission. Ireland recorded the sixth highest level of breach notifications across Europe and third highest on a per capita basis.

According to the law firm’s latest annual General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) fines and data breach report of the 27 European Union Member States plus the UK, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, a total of EUR272.5 million (about USD332.4 million / GBP245.3 million) of fines have been imposed for a wide range of infringements of Europe’s tough data protection.

Ireland has imposed EUR715,000 in GDPR fines since the application of GDPR on 25 May 2018 ranking it 14th. Italy’s regulator tops the rankings for aggregate fines having imposed more than EUR69.3 million (about USD84.5 million / GBP 62.4 million). Germany and France came second and third with aggregate fines of EUR69.1 million and EUR54.4 million respectively followed by the United Kingdom in fourth position with EUR44.2 million.

In aggregate there have been more than 281,000 data breach notifications since the application of GDPR on 25 May 2018 with Germany (77,747), The Netherlands (66,527) and the UK (30,536) topping the table for the number of data breaches notified to regulators. Ireland sits in fifth position with 17,131 breach notifications since 25 May 2018. France and Italy, countries with populations over 67 million and 62 million people respectively, only recorded 5389 and 3460 data breach notifications for the same period illustrating the cultural differences in approach to breach notification.

The aggregate daily rate of breach notifications in Europe experienced double-digit growth for the second year running with 331 notifications per day since 28 January 2020, an 19% increase compared to 278 breach notifications per day for the previous year.

Weighting the results against country populations, Ireland reported 127.8 breaches per 100,000 people, down from 132.52 per 100,000 people last year. This ranks the country third this year compared to second last year. Denmark takes pole position this year ahead of The Netherlands with 155.6 and 150 reported breaches per 100,000 people respectively. Greece, Italy and Croatia reported the fewest number of breaches per capita since 28 January 2020.

The highest GDPR fine to date remains the EUR50 million (about USD61 million / GBP45 million) imposed by the French data protection regulator on Google, for alleged infringements of the transparency principle and lack of valid consent.

Following two high profile data breaches, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) published two notices of intent to impose fines in July 2019 totalling GBP282 million (about EUR313 million / USD382 million). However, in a significant climbdown by the UK regulator, the final fines imposed in October 2020 were greatly reduced to GBP20 million (about EUR 22.2 million / USD 27.1 million) and GBP 18.4 million (about EUR20.4 million / USD25 million). The Austrian supervisory authority suffered a setback when its EUR18 million fine (about GBP16.2 million / USD22 million) was successfully appealed in December 2020.

Commenting on the report, Ross McKean, Chair of DLA Piper’s UK Data Protection & Security Group, said: “Fines and breach notifications continue their double-digit annual growth and European regulators have shown their willingness to use their enforcement powers. They have also adopted some extremely strict interpretations of GDPR setting the scene for heated legal battles in the years ahead. However, we have also seen regulators show a degree of leniency this year in response to the ongoing pandemic with several high-profile fines being reduced due to financial hardship. During the coming year we anticipate the first enforcement actions relating to GDPR’s restrictions on transfers of personal data to the US and other “third countries” as the aftershocks from the ruling by Europe’s highest court in the Schrems II case continue to be felt.”

John Magee, Intellectual Property & Technology partner at DLA Piper Ireland said “Regulators have been testing the limits of their powers this year issuing fines for a wide variety of infringements of Europe’s tough data protection laws. But they certainly haven’t had things all their own way with some notable successful appeals and large reductions in proposed fines. Given the large sums involved and the risk of follow-on claims for compensation we expect to see the trend of more appeals and more robust defenses of enforcement action to continue.”

“Closer to home, the Data Protection Commission has flexed its muscles by issuing fines against domestic organisations as well as a large technology company. As lead regulator for many international businesses, and with a large volume of inquiries underway, the DPC is likely to issue further sanctions as 2021 progresses.”

N.B. Not all Member States of the European Economic Area make details of breach notification statistics publicly available. Several have only provided incomplete statistics or statistics for part of the period covered by this report so the figures have been rounded up and in some cases extrapolated to provide best approximations. Similarly not all GDPR fines are publicly reported and some data only covered part of the period covered by this report.

Access for a copy of the report.