Do companies have to “flow down” access requests to service providers?


When a business receives a request from a consumer to access the personal information that the business has “collected,” it must decide whether to grant the request or to deny it based upon one of the exceptions to access contained in the CCPA.1  If the business decides to grant the request and provide the personal information in its possession, the CCPA does not specifically state that the business must also direct its service providers to produce the personal information that may be in their possession.  This contrasts with deletion requests where the CCPA expressly states that a business which intends to honor such a request must “direct any service providers to delete the consumer’s personal information from their records.”2

Although the CCPA does not expressly state that a business must direct its service providers to search for and produce information collected from a consumer, privacy advocates are likely to take the position that flowing down an access request is implicitly required for the following reasons:

  1. Service providers are an extension of a business.  The CCPA states that a service provider “processes information on behalf of a business.”3 To the extent that a service provider functions as an agent of a business, an argument could be made that a failure by the business to instruct the service provider to search for and produce information could constitute a violation by the business itself.
  2. The CCPA refers to access to the information “collected.”  The CCPA states that a consumer should be able to request access to the “specific pieces of personal information the business has collected.”4 To the extent that a business collects personal information and then transmits it to a service provider for storage or further processing, the personal information was still “collected” by the business and, therefore, may need to be identified and produced regardless of whether it currently resides with the business or with its service provider.
  3. Access requests under the European GDPR are typically flowed down. Like the CCPA, the European GDPR does not expressly state that a controller must flow down an access request to a processor.  In practice, however, it is well accepted in Europe that if a controller grants an access request it should flow down an instruction to its processors to provide the impacted personal information.  In turn, the GDPR requires processors to “assist[] the controller . . . [in] the fulfilment of the controller’s obligation to respond to requests for exercising data subject’s rights . . . .”5

The act of instructing service providers to provide personal information in response to a consumer’s request is often referred to as “flowing down” an access request, or an “access request flow down.”