Saturday 1 October 2016

Facebook applies to be added to high profile data protection case

Published 20/10/2015 | 02:30

Max Schrems
Max Schrems

Facebook wants to be added to the court case taken by Austrian student Max Schrems against authorities here for failing to investigate his claim about the internet giant transferring personal data to the United States.

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The technology company's handling of customers' personal information is at the heart of the high profile legal action, but it is not formally a party to the judicial review proceedings that will continue today at the High Court in Dublin.

However, Facebook has now applied to join the proceedings, which have grabbed global headlines and cast a huge doubt over the protection of information passed between the European Union and the US.

"We will request an opportunity to join the proceedings in the Irish High Court where the Irish DPC's investigation is to be discussed," said a Facebook spokesman.

"We believe it is critical that we join the proceedings so that we can provide accurate information about our procedures and processes, as well as to correct inaccuracies that already exist."

Max Schrems' judicial review case taken against the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) is due to continue today.

A key issue thrown up by the case was the legitimacy and status of the so-called Safe Harbour protocol agreed 15 years ago by the EU and US covering data transfer arrangements between the two blocs, which is relied on by around 4000 companies.

The matter was referred from the High Court to the European Court of Justice by Mr Justice Hogan to clarify a point of European law. The landmark ECJ ruling effectively put an end to Safe Harbour. The European Court of Justice also ruled that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner should now reconsider Max Schrems' complaint over Facebook's transfer of data to US servers. Mr Schrems, inset, took the case after the Commission said it would not investigate Facebook's data transfers because they were covered under the Safe Harbour convention.

The ECJ decision undermines the entire Safe Harbour process and has been seen as an important victory for Mr Schrems, but the Irish judicial review has yet to conclude.

By looking to be added to the proceedings Facebook may be looking for an opportunity to defend its own data protection regime. Under EU data protection law, companies cannot transfer EU citizens' personal data to countries outside the EU deemed to have insufficient privacy safeguards.

With Safe Harbour now defunct, data protection officials from across Europe met last week to assess the implications of the ECJ ruling.

In a statement they said they would assess the impact of the judgment on other data transfer systems, such as binding corporate rules and model clauses between companies.

They also gave policy makers in Europe and the US three months to come up with a workable alternative that could allow information to continue to flow across the Atlantic.

"If by the end of January 2016, no appropriate solution is found with the US authorities and depending on the assessment of the transfer tools by the Working Party, EU data protection authorities are committed to take all necessary and appropriate actions, which may include coordinated enforcement actions," the watchdogs said in a statement.

Irish Independent

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