Ireland’s privacy watchdog has launched a bid to refer Facebook’s data transfer mechanism to the European Union’s top court in a landmark case that could put the shifting of data across the Atlantic under renewed legal threat.
The move is the latest challenge to the various methods by which large tech firms such as Google and Apple move personal data of EU citizens back to the United States. It does not appear that Ireland is going for Google or Apple yet.
The issue of data privacy came to the fore after revelations in 2013 from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of mass U.S. surveillance caused political outrage in Europe and stoked mistrust of large technology companies and an overhaul in the way businesses can move personal data – from human resources information to people’s browsing histories – so as to protect Europeans’ information against US surveillance.
Ireland’s data protection commissioner, who has jurisdiction over Facebook as its European headquarters are in Dublin, wants The Court of Justice of the European Union to determine the validity of Facebook’s “model contracts” – common legal arrangements used by thousands of firms to transfer personal data outside the 28-nation bloc.
Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon has formed the view that some of the complaints against the model contracts are “well founded.”
Collins said only the CJEU and not a national court or the Data Protection Commissioner has the jurisdiction to rule a European Commission decision invalid.
He said that under EU law, a transfer of data can only be made to a country outside the EU if that country ensures an adequate level of protection.
However the court agrees it could be a major headaches for companies that need to transfer personal data to the United States. Ironically Facebook is building a huge data centre in Ireland which is designed to prevent this sort of data shifting to the US.
The court has since agreed to a request to allow the United States government to join the case, potentially giving the new US administration a platform to lay out its views on surveillance laws. Since Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump has already signed an executive order which removes the safe harbour rules negotiated between the US and the EU it is unlikely that he will prove particularly helpful to Facebook.
Facebook, which is due to speak in court during the case, said in May that it was one of thousands of companies that used model clauses and said it had a number of legal ways of moving data to the United States.