2017 has started with a bang on the data protection front. There have been several developments these past few months, ranging from updates on the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), coming into force in May 2018, to the establishment of a Swiss-EU Privacy Shield. In relation to mHealth specifically, the Code of Conduct for mHealth is still with the Article 29 Working Party (the EU data protection representative body, or “WP29”) – such codes of conduct have a raised status in the GDPR and are likely to play a more significant role going forwards. We provide a snapshot of the latest developments below.

Firstly, there have been several steps forward in relation to the GDPR. The UK data protection regulator, the “ICO”, has been consistent in its support for preparation of the GDPR in the UK following the Brexit vote last year. In January, we have seen the ICO provide an update on the GDPR guidance that it will be publishing for organizations in 2017, and the WP29 adopt an action plan and publish guidance on three key areas of the GDPR. MP Matt Hancock (Minister of State for Digital and Culture with responsibility for data protection) also suggested in December and February that a radical departure from the GDPR provisions in the UK after Brexit is unlikely, despite being careful not to give away the intentions of the UK government.

On the electronic communications front, the European Commission published a draft E-Privacy Regulation in January, which is currently being assessed by the WP29, European Parliament and Council. The new Regulation is designed as an update to the E-Privacy Directive, and will sit alongside the GDPR to govern the protection of personal data in relation to the wide area of electronic communications, whether in the healthcare sector or otherwise (such as those via WhatsApp, Skype, Gmail and Facebook Messenger).

In relation to global personal data transfer mechanisms, in January the Federal Council of Switzerland announced that there would be a new framework for transferring personal data (including health data) from Switzerland to the US; the Swiss-EU Privacy Shield. As with the EU-US Privacy Shield, the Swiss-US Privacy Shield has been agreed as a replacement of the Swiss-US Safe Harbor framework. The establishment of the new Swiss-EU Privacy Shield means that Switzerland will apply similar standards for transfers of personal data to the US as the EU. Organizations can sign up to the Swiss-EU Privacy Shield with the US Department of Commerce from 12 April 2017. If organizations have already self-certified to the EU-US Privacy Shield, they will be able to add their certification to the Swiss-US Privacy Shield on the Privacy Shield website from 12 April 2017.

These developments need to be taken into consideration by organizations that are creating and implementing digital health products, such as mHealth apps, which operate in a space that can bring up several regulatory questions. Further information can be found in our recent advisory.