Facebook and Apple escape censure over 'sending data to US'
DATA Protection Commissioner Billy Hawkes will take no action against the Irish-based subsidiaries of Facebook and Apple – who stand accused of handing over personal data of hundreds of millions of Europeans to national security organisations in the US via their parent companies.
The decision is set to cause ructions with other European countries, notably Germany, which has been infuriated over revelations that the US accesses the data of EU citizens.
Mr Hawkes (below) responded to complaints filed against the two multinationals by the Vienna-based organisation Europe v Facebook.
He said he cannot act on the basis of the precedent set by the European Commission's own 'Safe Harbour' decision brought in 13 years ago.
Under the Safe Harbour directive, American companies in Europe can only give data such as a person's emails or phone call records to US authorities if the US fulfils a number of criteria such as protecting the information, and doesn't pass it on to a third party.
Last month, however, the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed how US firms pass on user data to the American government as a matter of course. Those disclosures have raised doubts about whether the US fills those criteria.
Many of the companies that have passed data on to the US, such as Apple and Facebook, have their European headquarters in Ireland, so are regulated by Mr Hawkes and the DPC.
Europe v Facebook lodged the complaints against the Irish subsidiaries of Facebook and Apple with Mr Hawkes, pictured, following Mr Snowden's disclosures. In response, Mr Hawkes said that the firms are signed up to Safe Harbour and therefore the free export of data was legal.
Mr Hawkes added: "We do not consider that there are grounds for an investigation concerning the complaints on the forwarding of European's data to the NSA."
Max Schrems, who heads up Europe v Facebook, criticised the decision.
"The different reaction in the member states shows that European fundamental rights are not worth the paper they are written on, if your opponent is headquartered in the right country," he said.
A statement from the European Commission's justice spokesperson Viviane Reding said she would have to evaluate the Irish DPC's decision before making a comment.
But she added that she has already announced plans this week to review the Safe Harbour agreement with the US.