Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Facebook risks fresh trial in Austrian court

  • Facebook is accused of compiling European users' data and sending them to the US (Photo: Eston)

The legal battle against Facebook in Europe could reach a new stage on Thursday (9 April), when an Austrian court hears a civil suit filed against the American firm by Austrian citizen Max Schrems.

Schrems, a 27-year old privacy campaigner, is accusing Facebook of compiling its users’ personal data in violation of Austrian and EU legislation.

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Following revelations by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden, Schrems also alleges that Facebook co-operated with the US National Security Agency (NSA) in the "Prism" surveillance program.

The court in Vienna will hold a technical hearing in order to decide if Schrems’ case is admissible in Austria and if it can be put forward as a class action.


Facebook disputes Schrems’ right to file a civil suit in Austria on grounds that its European HQ is in Ireland.

Schrems is suing Facebook in the name of 25,000 people who signed an online-petition. He is asking the Vienna court to consider their case as a class action.

He argues that he is presenting a consumer complaint and that it is admissible in the complainant's country.

He is seeking a €10 million compensation, which he says would amount to a symbolic €500 per person.

If the Vienna court declares itself entitled to hear the case, it would open a new front in the legal battle against the social media provider.

In 2011, Schrems lodged a complaint with the data protection commissioner in Ireland, the home of Facebook’s European headquarters, on grounds that the multinational exported its European users’ data to the US.

After the commissioner failed to answer, Schrems and his ‘Europe vs. Facebook’ group brought the case to the Irish High Court, which found that the US had “mass and undifferentiated” access to Facebook users’ data.

The Irish High Court then suspended the case and asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to examine the rules on data transfer between Europe and the US.

At a ECJ hearing on 24 March, European Commission attorney Bernhard Schima suggested that the Safe Harbour agreement signed between the EU and the US to protect the personal data of European users of US websites offers no real guarantee.

"You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one," said the EU lawyer.

The ECJ’s advocate general will publish an opinion on 24 June.

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EU judgement on Facebook to take over a year

Any EU-level judgement on a case filed against Facebook for its alleged involvement in helping the Americans snoop on millions of people is likely to take over a year.

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