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ILA Guidelines on Privacy Endorsed

On 23 June 2022, the Lisbon Guidelines on Privacy, drawn up by the ILA Committee on the Protection of Privacy in Private International and Procedural Law, have been formally endorsed by the International Law Association at the 80th ILA Biennial Conference, hosted in Lisbon (Portugal).

The Committee was established further to a proposal by Prof. Dr. Dres h.c. Burkhard Hess to create a forum on the protection of privacy in the context of private international and procedural law. It comprised experts from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Prof. Hess chaired the Committee; Prof. Jan von Hein and Dr. Cristina M. Mariottini were the co-rapporteurs. The documents of the meetings held by the Committee in the past years, and of the Guidelines and commentary as presented in Lisbon, are publicly available here. A related publication on ssrn and in the MPI Luxembourg’s Working Paper Series will follow.

The creation of the Committee was triggered by a simple factual evidence, which is described in the Conception Paper. By reason of the rapid computerisation and automatisation in the handling of personal information, traditional expectations for the protection of one’s privacy have undergone major changes. The dynamics and the dimension of the potential intrusions into one’s personal life have been significantly transformed, bringing forth new challenges for legislators, courts and practitioners. Questions arise concerning jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of judgments, but also legal standing, protection of vulnerable parties, and remedies, among others. Intuitively, it was felt that simply adapting the existing general rules on torts and contracts would not provide satisfactory answers to the new setting. Hence, exploring private international and procedural law issues was considered of utmost significance, with a view to (i) providing a set of principles/framework for regulating privacy in private international and procedural law, and (ii) developing concepts that could constitute a point of reference for legislators, the judiciary and legal counsels.

The document submitted for endorsement in Lisbon is the outcome of several meetings  of experts at ILA conferences (Johannesburg and Sydney) and in-between (Luxembourg), and of many on-line exchanges. It consists of two parts. The introductory one describes the scope and objectives of the Committee and the methodology followed. Then, the Guidelines themselves follow in the form of a Preamble and of 13 so-called articles, each accompanied by a thorough explanatory comment with references to pertinent legal acts and case law of different jurisdictions. The provisions are distributed under the headings General Part (Articles 1 and 2); Jurisdiction (Articles 3 to 6); Applicable Law (Articles 7 to 11); and Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments (Article 12 and 13).

The Guidelines define their nature and aims in the Preamble: their purpose is multifold in the sense that they may be used as a model for national, regional or international instruments (thus the word “article” in the operative text), but also simply to interpret, supplement or develop rules of private international law.

From the point of view of the scope, it is of interest to highlight that the Guidelines focus only on privacy: after careful reflection (and a conference organized by the Brussels Privacy Hub in collaboration with the MPI Luxembourg, held in Luxembourg in 2017) data protection-related issues were deliberately excluded. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Committee did not intend to address all procedural and private international law concerns arising out of cross-border litigation in relation to privacy. It preferred rather to concentrate on those aspects which appeared to be more relevant under several considerations, one of them being exclusion from PIL international conventions (the 2019 Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters, Article 2, k) and l)) or regional instruments (the Rome II Regulation, see Article 1, paragraph 2, g)). Against this background, the Guidelines provide rules on jurisdiction, applicable law and the recognition and enforcement of judgments regarding compensatory and injunctive relief (to the exclusion of negative declaration actions), as well as provisional measures, both in contractual and non-contractual claims.

Very briefly, I would like to recall some points of the contents of the Guidelines, which are too rich to be commented in a single post. Most notably, as far as jurisdiction and applicable law are concerned two basic principles permeate the solutions chosen, namely (i) foreseeability, and (ii) parallelism between jurisdiction and applicable law. The limited heads of jurisdiction and the decision to repudiate the so-called Mosaïc principle under Article 3, as well as the forum-ius rule of Article 7, clearly correspond to those principles. In the same lines, choice of court is accepted and presumed to be exclusive except in case the parties agreed to the contrary. Specific attention is paid to provisional measures, with a solution in Article 6 deviating from the Brussels I bis Regulation and the Court of Justice decision in C-581/20, Toto. The choice of the applicable law is also permitted; here, a particular answer is given to the case of disputes among users of social media. In addition, for conflict of law purposes, the right of reply is addressed separately under Article 10. Article 11 allows resorting to the ordre public exception to refuse the application of the law designated under the Guidelines, in particular when the effects of applying said law would be manifestly incompatible with fundamental principles of the forum as regards freedom of expression and information, as well as the protection of privacy and human dignity.

It is clear that some of the solutions finally adopted by the Committee will not be fully convincing from a European perspective, especially against the backdrop of statutory prescriptions currently in force. However, one should not forget that the Guidelines represent a compromise among experts of different legal backgrounds, and that they are meant to talk to a public not necessarily rooted in the European Union. At the same time, they can perfectly work here as a model where no rules exist at all, or where there is a window open to amending partially dysfunctional rules (as it may be contended is the case of Article 7, paragraph 2, of the Brussels I bis Regulation). In this regard, it is submitted that none of the Guidelines run contrary to fundamental principles or values of the European Union, and that all of them have been carefully drafted with a view to their usability in practice – a precious quality in our too much technical field of law.

Legal Secretary CJEU Full Professor PIL University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) Senior research fellow MPI Luxembourg (on leave) Usual disclaimer applies

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