Saturday 22 October 2016

Privacy shield: US Government rows into Irish data protection and Facebook case

Published 19/07/2016 | 11:57

Online Privacy Shield
Online Privacy Shield

The High Court has accepted the US government as an interested "amicus" party to an ongoing case involving the Irish data protection authority and Facebook.

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However, an application by IBEC and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to be joined to the case was rejected. Other applications by US-based civil rights groups were also rejected.

The case has arisen after Irish Data Commissioner Helen Dixon said that her office has doubts over the legality of so-called "model contract clauses", data transfer instruments relied upon by many businesses in their transactions with US firms.

Ms Dixon, who is the primary European data regulator of the world's biggest social media and online firms, said that she will now refer the question to the High Court and the European Court of Justice.

Any decision to strike down model contract clauses down could leave thousands of European companies in  limbo over their data transfers to the US despite last week's 'Privacy Shield' agreement between the EU and the US.

Last year, the ECJ struck down the 'Safe Harbour' treaty between the EU and US, on the grounds that it was insufficient to protect the data privacy of EU citizens. The new 'Privacy Shield' agreement aims to replace 'Safe Harbour' with tighter controls over European personal data.

“The fact that the US government intervenes in this lawsuit shows that we hit them from a relevant angle," said Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems. "The US can largely ignore the political critique on US mass surveillance, but it cannot ignore the economic relevance of EU-US data flows."

In a separate development, the European Court Of Justice’s Advocate General, Henrik Saugmandsgaard, has said that bulk retention of data is only justified in cases of serious crime. However, he said that such data retention can be in accordance with EU state’s national laws.


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