THE EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE (ECJ) has started to look into claims that US web companies suck up local personal information and share it with authorities.
The case is a mix of Edward Snowden fallout and ongoing concerns about Facebook and data privacy, and could be a precedent setter.
Europe already has something of a thing for privacy and data. The region is well aware of the implications of Snowden's revelations, and already has concerns with the suitability of the so-called safe harbour agreements.
Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for digital economy and society, made it clear last month that faith in large US internet companies has been shaken, and that the perception is one of vampiric greed.
"Google or Facebook will not respect national legislation. They will establish their company in the Member State where data protection is least developed and from that Member State suck up all the data coming from other Member States like a huge ‘electronic vacuum cleaner', transfer the data to California, process it and sell it as a service for money," he said in a speech at a Digital4Europe stakeholder meeting.
"This means that anyone who wants to do business in Europe by providing services using knowledge of data has to take account of our rules and comply with them. If Google and Facebook wish to do business in Europe, they have to observe our rules."
The ECJ is particularly concerned about data transfer, and will tackle the 15-year-old safe harbour arrangements with a view to doing something about their suitability.
The court took on this challenge last summer after Austrian student Max Schrems had taken his Facebook privacy concerns to the Irish courts.
These courts decided that more studies and consideration was needed, and High Court Justice Gerard Hogan ordered that the privacy challenge be taken to the ECJ for greater scrutiny.
"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 said in his ruling.
Schrems was positive about the move. "We did not prepare for a direct reference to the ECJ, but this is the best outcome we could have wished for," he said at the time.
Schrems' Europe Vs Facebook advocacy site, which started when he sought to find out what information Facebook had on him (it was over 1,000 pages), describes the case as a "spy scandal". µ
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