EU court told to stop US snooping on social media
Published 24/09/2015 | 02:30
Facebook and other tech giants face the prospect of a data-protection overhaul, after a legal victory by privacy campaigner Max Schrems.
Europe's top court has been advised to rule that US spy chiefs can be banned from accessing the online data of citizens.
A lawyer for the European Court of Justice said an EU-US agreement on the transfer of huge data banks did not stop watchdogs from suspending the movement of information.
The assessment was described by the ECJ as an opinion and there is no guarantee that it will be accepted when judges rule later this year.
But it marks a victory in the long-running challenge by Austrian campaigner Max Schrems over Facebook's use of his personal data and its transfer to American intelligence agencies.
Mr Schrems, who began his challenge in Ireland, said there could be far-reaching consequences.
"Companies that participate in US mass surveillance and provide, for example, cloud services within the EU and rely on data centres in the US, may now have to invest in secure data centres within the European Union," he said.
Mr Schrems said that while his case was specific to Facebook, it may also apply to other tech giants such as Apple, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
His legal battle was sparked by revelations over the US National Security Agency's Prism surveillance system, which was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
It allowed spies to wade through billions of bits of personal data and information held by nine internet giants.
Everyone on the social network in the EU signs a contract with Facebook Ireland. Under the US-EU data transfer, all their details can be accessed by the National Security Agency.
Mr Schrems first took his case to the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) in Ireland. And his challenge will come back to the High Court in Dublin after the ECJ issues its final ruling.
Yves Bot, advocate general in the Luxembourg-based court, yesterday provided an opinion which is not binding. But it is normally accepted in later rulings by ECJ judges. He branded the US spying as "mass, indiscriminate surveillance".
In one of the most hard-hitting findings, Mr Bot said the access of US spies to European data interferes with the right to respect for private life and protection of personal data.
Dara Murphy, Minister for European Affairs and Data Protection, urged the EU and US to strike a revised deal on data sharing.
John O'Mahony, chair of the Dáil's communications committee, said he couldn't rule out calling representatives from the online giants to face questions.