herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Ireland set to probe Facebook following Court ruling on data

Max Schrems challenged Facebook over the transfer of his personal information to American intelligence agencies
Max Schrems challenged Facebook over the transfer of his personal information to American intelligence agencies

IRELAND's Data Protection Commissioner must now make a decision whether or not to suspend the transfer of data belonging to Facebook's European subscribers to the US.

It comes after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled today that an agreement which gave US spy chiefs access to the online data of millions of citizens is invalid.

Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems challenged the Safe Harbour treaty in his fight to expose what information Facebook gave to American intelligence agencies.

In June of that year, Schrems filed a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) disputing the level of privacy protection given to personal data about him held in the US by Facebook.

He made the complaint in Ireland because Facebook's European headquarters is here, putting its interactions with citizens of any EU country under Irish data protection law.

Mr Schrems claimed Ireland's data watchdog had an onus to uncover what information Facebook held on users and ultimately what was being transferred to the US under Safe Harbour and being accessed through US surveillance.

After the DPC rejected the complaint, Schrems appealed to Europe.

This morning, the ECJ found that legislation allowing the authorities access to the content of electronic communications compromised the fundamental right to respect for private life.

The judgment said: "The court declares the Safe Harbour decision invalid."

SURVEILLANCE

Mr Schrems's legal battle over Safe Harbour was sparked by Edward Snowden's revelations over the US National Security Agency (NSA)'s Prism surveillance system, which allowed spies to access enormous amounts of data from global tech companies.

Today's judgment said that national security, public interest and law enforcement requirements of the United States prevail over the Safe Harbour scheme, so that US undertakings are bound to disregard the protective rules laid down by that scheme where they conflict with such requirements.

"This judgment has the consequence that the Irish supervisory authority is required to examine Mr Schrems' complaint with all due diligence and ... to decide whether ... transfer of the data of Facebook's European subscribers to the US should be suspended on the ground that that country does not afford an adequate level of protection of personal data," the ECJ said.

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon welcomed the judgment, saying it "reiterated the fundamental importance attaching to the right of individuals to the protection of their personal data."

The judgment will now be considered by the Irish High Court. Ms Dixon added that she would engage with other commissioners in Europe in relation to the ruling.

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