Sensitive and non-sensitive personal data can be transferred abroad if the data subject’s explicit consent is obtained.

Furthermore, other legal grounds will also apply to transferring personal data to a foreign country. However, the destination country must have “sufficient protection” to conclude the transfer abroad based on legal grounds (except for having obtained explicit consent). The Board will determine a list of jurisdictions that provide sufficient protection. The Board has confirmed that they have been working on the list of safe countries regarding the data transfer abroad, yet since the referred list is prepared based on reciprocity, for now, no foreign country has been announced to be safe by the Board.

According to the Law, if sufficient protection in the destination country for the realisation of the data transfer does not exist, both:

  • The data controller in Turkey and the foreign country must provide a written commitment stating that sufficient data protection will be provided; and
  • Authorisation must be obtained from the Board to transfer data to the relevant foreign country.

However, we have seen that obtaining a permit from the Board upon submitting a written commitment is not a transparent process, and there is no predictable timeline either as to when the parties may reach such a permit from the Board. Thus, making an application to the Board through the submission of commitments in and of itself, or submitting intercompany transfer agreements, is not considered adequate. Also, it would be appropriate to note that a limited number of business enterprises have applied and obtained a permit to transfer data abroad.

As an alternative method for transferring data between multinational group companies where there is insufficient protection in the destination country, the Board introduced the concept of Binding Corporate Rules (“BCR”). Accordingly, Binding Corporate Rules may be submitted to the Board, and the Board’s approval must be obtained to transfer personal data legally between multinational group companies without the need to obtain explicit consent (in cases where the processing of personal data may be made based on legal grounds other than explicit consent, i.e. execution of the agreement, the exercise of legal rights, or fulfilling legal requirements, etc.).

The fact that there is currently no fast solution for the transfer of personal data abroad except for obtaining explicit consent and that the legal instruments, such as standard contractual clauses, alone are not adequate for the transfer of personal data abroad, undisputedly reveals that an amendment to the Law must resolve this issue. It is expected to resolve this issue by taking concrete steps in the short term under the current legislation, as it also affects commercial relations. Within this scope, it is seen that certain amendments are planned to be made to Article 9 on the transfer of personal data abroad as a part of the proposed amendments to the Data Protection Law, which the Board has shared with stakeholders in the sector.

With the amendment in question, a three-step assessment system has been proposed for transferring data abroad. Within this scope, it will be evaluated firstly whether an adequacy decision has been issued specifically to the sector. In the absence of an adequacy decision held by the Board, personal data will be transferred if one of the appropriate guarantees has been given. Also, the Board may ask for other undertakings. In the absence of an adequacy decision and relevant undertakings provided by the data controller, personal data can be transferred abroad solely in the exceptional cases listed below, within the scope of the proposed amendment.

(i) Adequacy Decision

In the presence of the legal grounds outlined in Articles 5 and 6 of the Data Protection Law and upon issuance of an adequacy decision relating to the country, sector or international organisation within the country where the data is to be transferred (including onward transfers), personal data may be transferred abroad. The Board will grant an adequacy decision based on the reciprocity rule and consider other aspects.

(ii) Appropriate Undertakings

  • (i) In the absence of an adequacy decision issued by the Board, personal data can be transferred abroad provided that one of the following appropriate undertakings is granted by the data controller:
  • Notification to the Board with a standard undertaking, which the Board has also published,
  • Submission of a written agreement to the Board, including protective measures that will be applicable and obtaining the Board’s permission,
  • Presence of binding corporate rules and approval of the BCRs by the Board,
  • Presence of provisions on the protection of personal data in agreements to be executed between the public entities and bodies in Turkey and the corresponding public entities and bodies in the foreign country where the personal data is to be transferred and obtaining the Board’s permission.

Finally, in cases where an adequacy decision has not been issued or the data controller does not provide related undertakings, it is proposed that data transfer will be made in exceptional cases based on the following conditions:

  • (i) Upon explicit consent of the data subject after informing him/her about the potential risks originating from the absence of appropriate undertakings,
  • (ii) transfer of personal data of the contracting parties is obligatory provided that such transfer is directly related to the establishment or performance of the contract,
  • (iii) conclusion or performance of a contract that is executed for the benefit of this party data subject, under which transfer of the contracting parties’ personal data is obligatory,
  • (iv) data transfer is mandatory for the protection of the life or bodily integrity of a person who is incapable of giving consent or whose consent is not legally valid or of another person,
  • (v) data transfer is obligatory for the establishment, exercise or protection of a legal right, and
  • (vi) solely as a temporary case, transfer of personal data is obligatory to perform duties and powers of public bodies and organisations or professional institutions with public duties, as outlined in the relevant regulations.

Referred proposed amendments have yet to be finalised and enacted. However, it is a meaningful development in that the deficiency we pointed out has also been accepted by the Board, and they have been working to remedy it.

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