Guidelines 07/2020 on the concepts of controller and processor in the GDPR
Paragraph 3.2.2 Assessment of joint participation
51. Joint participation in the determination o purposes and means implies that more than one entity have a decisive influence over whether and how the processing takes place. In practice, joint participation can take several different forms. For example, joint participation can take the form of a common decision taken by two or more entities or result from converging decisions by two or more entities regarding the purposes and essential means.
52. Joint participation through a common decision means deciding together and involves a common intention in accordance with the most common understanding of the term “jointly” referred to in Article 26 oft he GDPR.
53. The situation of joint participation through converging decisions results more particularly from the case law of the CJEU on the concept of joint controllers. Decisions can be considered as converging on purposes and means if they complement each other and are necessary for the processing to take place in such manner that they have a tangible impact on the determination of the purposes and means of the processing. As such, an important criterion to identify converging decisions in this context is whether the processing would not be possible without both parties’ participation in the sense that the processing by each party is inseparable, i.e. inextricably linked. The situation of joint controllers acting on the basis of converging decisions should however be distinguished from the case of a processor, since the latter – while participating in the performance of a processing – does not process the data for its own purposes but carries out the processing on behalf of the controller.
54. The fact that one of the parties does not have access to personal data processed is not sufficient to exclude joint controllership. For example, in Jehovah’s Witnesses, the CJEU considered that a religious community must be considered a controller, jointly with its members who engage in preaching, of the processing of personal data carried out by the latter in the context of door -to-door preaching. The CJEU considered that it was not necessary that the community had access to the data inquestion, or to establish that that community had given its members written guidelines or instructions in relation to the data processing. The community participated in the determination of purposes and means by organising and coordinating the activities of its members, which helped to achieve the objective of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community. In addition, the community had knowledge on a general level of the fact that such processing was carried out in order to spread its faith.
55. It is also important to underline, as clarified by the CJEU, that ane ntity will be considered as joint controller with the other(s) only in respect of those operations for which it determines, jointly with others, the means and the purposes of the processing. If one of these entities decides alone the purposes and means of operations that precede or are subsequent in the chain of processing, this entity must be considered as the sole controller of this preceding or subsequent operation.
56. The existence of joint responsibility does not necessarily imply equal responsibility of the various operators involved in the processing of personal data. On the contrary, the CJEU has clarified that those operators may be involved at different stages of that processing and to different degrees so that the level of responsibility of each of them must be assessed with regard to all the relevant circumstances of the particular case.