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ECJ to probe Facebook’s EU data sharing with the NSA

Review of Safe Harbor agreement could affect other firms involved with PRISM
Wed Jun 18 2014, 14:29

A HIGH COURT JUDGE has asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to weigh in on a case concerning Facebook's involvement with PRISM, after Irish authorities decided to dismiss it.

Australian law student Max Schrems, who is a leader of the group Europe vs Facebook, took Facebook to court in Ireland, where Facebook's European headquarters is located, in 2012, over revelations that the social network shared details of its European users with the US National Security Agency (NSA).

He asked the Irish Data Commisioner to investigate the legality of Facebook doing so, but it ruled that Schrems didn't have a case due to the "Safe Harbor" agreement between the EU and the US, and because he couldn't prove his own data was being shared.

Schrems sought a review at the High Court, and today High Court Justice Gerard Hogan ordered that the privacy challenge be taken to the ECJ (PDF), which could have an effect on other companies involved in PRISM, such as Google and Microsoft, if the Safe Harbor agreement is reviewed.

Gerard said in his ruling, "For such interception of communications to be constitutionally valid, it would, accordingly, be necessary to demonstrate that this interception and surveillance of individuals or groups of individuals was objectively justified in the interests of the suppression of crime and national security and, further, that any such interception was attended by the appropriate and verifiable safeguards."

He added that, despite claims from the Irish commissioner, Schrems cannot say whether his data was shared, nor should he have to.

"Quite obviously, Mr Schrems cannot say whether his own personal data has ever been accessed or whether it would ever be accessed by the US authorities," he said.

In a statement, Schrems said Gerard's decision was the best he could have hoped for. He said, "We did not prepare for a direct reference to the ECJ, but this is the best outcome we could have wished for. We will study the judgement in details and will take the next steps as soon as possible." µ


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