In my first blog post on GDPR, I talked about why some U.S. businesses have an obligation to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This post expands on the territorial scope of GDPR. Which U.S. businesses have to comply with GDPR and which don’t?
Starting first with GDPR’s direct coverage, GDPR talks about businesses established in the EU. If a business has a division or office in the EU, then it has activities covered by GDPR. Also, if a business offers goods or services in the EU (even if free), the business must comply with GDPR. In addition, if a business is monitoring the behavior of EU residents, GDPR applies. Finally, if EU law applies because of public international law, then GDPR applies there as well. This last basis will not affect most U.S. businesses. These bases for GDPR’s coverage all appear in GDPR Article 3.
In addition to direct coverage, a U.S. business may have compliance obligations indirectly because it is processing data on behalf of a company that is covered by GDPR. The customer may be a controller collecting personal data from EU residents or may itself be a data processor receiving data from a controller covered by GDPR. In either case, a controller and any downstream processor have an obligation to protect personal data collected from EU residents. They will need to make sure any U.S. businesses providing data processing services meet the standards of the kind imposed by GDPR through an agreement or other mechanism. The two most common mechanisms are “standard contractual clauses” – essentially an addendum to a service agreement that impose data protection requirements – or a U.S. business’s self-certification under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield program of the U.S. Department of Commerce. A U.S. business providing services for a European controller or processor can import EU personal data to the U.S. if it provides assurances of an adequate level of protection under either of these two mechanisms. These U.S. businesses, then, have an indirect obligation to comply with GDPR standards.