Friday 20 July 2018

Data protection chief's €2m bill for Facebook court fight

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Robbie Reynolds
Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photo: Robbie Reynolds

Gordon Deegan

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) has run up a legal bill of almost €2m as a result of the Schrems/Facebook data case.

In May 2016, Commissioner Helen Dixon commenced the legal action that is now heading for Europe following a ruling by the High Court last October.

The Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ) is to now determine the validity or otherwise of European Commission decisions approving EU-US data transfer channels used by Facebook and others.

Facebook and the US Government had opposed the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's application for a referral.

Commissioner Dixon sought a referral after reaching a draft view that Austrian lawyer Mr Schrems had raised "well-founded" objections over the transfer of his personal data to the US.

Now, figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request show that the case has cost the DPC some €1.928m for legal and related expert fees in the past two years.

The figures show that €1.28m has been paid out over 2016 and 2017 to Dublin legal firm Philip Lee solicitors, which is acting for the DPC in the case.

The DPC FOI unit state that "these fees include third-party costs/fees to be disbursed by Philip Lee solicitors in respect of matters including expert witnesses and other third party costs relating to these proceedings. A breakdown of the figures show that last year, the firm received €808,865 and this followed a 2016 payout of €478,860.

Senior counsels Michael Collins and Brian Murray led the State legal team in the long-running case and over 2016 and 2017, Mr Murray was paid €253,774 and Mr Collins received €207,962.

In addition, Catherine Donnelly BL received €179,303 in counsel fees.

The DPC's total spend on legal costs between January 1 and December 12 last year amounted to €1.62m with the Schrems case accounting for €1.3m of that total.

As a number of social media giants and tech companies have headquarters here, the DPC has become involved in high-profile court cases concerning data protection.

As a result, its costs are increasing at a rapid rate and in response, the DPC is to receive €11.67m from Government this year

This compares to an allocation of €7.52m in 2017 and €4.74m in 2016.

Irish Independent

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