Commission releases legal submissions in Nowak data protection case

Since July 2017 it is now possible to get access to legal submissions in CJEU cases which are held by the European Commission. Since the Commission is a party or intervener in a wide range of cases, particularly the more important ones, this means that there is a now a high degree of transparency regarding the arguments of parties in CJEU cases.

We requested access to the pleadings in the well known case of Peter Nowak v. Data Protection Commissioner which concerned the issue of whether an exam script could be personal data.

You can follow the request below using the service

The case concerned a request by Mr Nowak for access to his exam script in a professional accountancy exam. The request was refused on the basis that his exam script was not personal data and therefore not accessible under the Data Protection Acts. The Data Protection Commissioner agreed and dismissed his claim as “frivolous or vexatious” i.e. the request was bound to fail.

Each of the Circuit Court, High Court and Court of Appeal agreed and dismissed his appeals. However the Supreme Court held that Mr Nowak was entitled to appeal and as a matter of EU law there was doubt as to whether Mr Nowak’s exam script was personal data. In that case the Supreme Court stayed proceedings and made a preliminary reference to the CJEU.

Both Ireland and the Data Protection Commissioner argued for a narrow definition of personal data. In particular the Data Protection Commissioner acknoweldged that the exam result itself was personal data but the answers to the exam questions in this particular case were not personal data since there were no special circumstances such as, for example, where the exam requires the candidate to expose factual personal information.

Ireland made similar arguments.

The Court ultimately rejected this narrow interpretation and found that information becomes personal data because of the content, purpose or effect which links it with an identifiable individual. In terms of each of these the CJEU found that the information contained in an exam script was linked to the candidate and was therefore personal data and, in principle, accessible under the subject access right.

C 434 16 Observations Ireland EN


C 434 16 Observations Data Protection Commissioner EN Redacted