Friday 21 October 2016

Twitter declares Ireland as its global legal centre

Published 19/05/2015 | 02:30

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Twitter's self-declared legal switch to Ireland may be a peremptory move ahead of a change in European law spurred by US spying, according to data protection experts.

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The social networking company has changed its non-US privacy accountability to its Irish office, making the Irish facility nominally responsible for 250 million users around the world.

"It's possible that Twitter may be anticipating a change in Safe Harbour because of recent developments and the direction European authorities are taking," said Irish data privacy expert Daragh O'Brien.

"If so, it would help them to have a single defined office."

'Safe Harbour' is the law that allows companies to transfer personal data of EU citizens to US entities on the understanding that such personal data in the US will be given EU privacy standards, which are higher than US privacy standards.

However, the European Court of Justice is currently hearing evidence that US spy organisations routinely access EU personal data. If the court strikes down the 'Safe Harbour' agreement, experts say big companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google will need a single point of contact within the EU to deal with the consequences.

A spokesman for Twitter declined to comment, but said that the legal switch to Ireland does not change its services.

"If you live outside the United States, our services are now provided to you by Twitter International Company, our company based in Dublin, Ireland," the statement said.

"Twitter International Company will be responsible for handling your account information under Irish privacy and data protection law, which is based on the European Union's Data Protection Directive."

The move has sparked speculation that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's office may have to take on an increased workload as all global complaints and regulation queries become redirected to Dublin.

But a spokesman for the Data Protection Commissioner said Twitter's move "won't really change" existing law on the issue, nor the office's official responsibility for dealing with Twitter. "EU law in each country was always, and remains, applicable to EU users," said a spokesman for the office of Helen Dixon, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner.

"If someone in Spain has a complaint about Twitter, it's investigated there. We're not the exclusive regulatory authority in thie regard."

This was echoed by the Data Protection Commissioner, Helen Dixon, in a recent interview with the Irish Independent.

"We've had a lot of media queries since Twitter made its announcement," said Ms Dixon. "In fact, under the 1995 directive, an organisation like Twitter that has hundreds of thousands of European users would always have been covered. Simply because users are signed up with something called 'Twitter Inc', didn't mean that they weren't covered under the protections of existing European law.

"And that's a point that the Google Spain judgement underlined. It doesn't matter whether a company like Twitter or Google says 'but we're a US data controller, not a European controller'.

"So even though Twitter users up to last week were signed up under 'Twitter Inc' we would always have seen ourselves as responsible."

Ms Dixon said that the company is not on the same level as rival social media firms for complaints or queries.

"As for Twitter itself, there hasn't been any significant volume of queries or complaints in respect of their service," she said. "But I have already had engagement with Twitter in my first couple of months in the role and have made queries."

Irish Independent

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