Monday

8th Mar 2021

EU judgement on Facebook to take over a year

  • Facebook allegedly allowed the US access to spy on its users (Photo: Franco Bouly)

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.

A contact at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice on Friday (20 June) said the case, initially filed by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems with Ireland’s high court, could take up to 18 months.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“They [high court] have to refer it to us, which can take weeks to months and once we get it registered here it could take up to 18 months before we pass any judgement on it,” said the contact.

Ireland’s high court adjourned and referred the case to the EU court on Wednesday in what is described by some as a decisive moment for privacy rights and the fight against corporate involvement in US-led mass surveillance.

Parliament’s lead data protection legislator German Green Jan Philipp Albrecht called it "a major step for data protection rights".

The complaint against Facebook is rooted in classified documents released to the public last year by former US agent Edward Snowden.

Facebook, along with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, are said to have been involved in a top-secret US-led surveillance programme known as Prism.

Snowden’s exposures indicate the US spy hub, the National Security Agency (NSA), had paid the companies millions to help cover costs to run the global snooping operation.

Americans firms are supposed to follow EU laws whenever the personal data of EU citizens is transferred to the US under a so-called ‘adequacy decision’ arising from a 14-year old EU-US data pact known as Safe Harbour.

Schrems, for his part, had requested Ireland’s data protection commissioner Billy Hawkes to investigate Facebook over claims it violated the pact by collaborating with the Americans on Prism.

The company’s European headquarters is based in Dublin, which forwards all data on its international customers to the US.

Hawkes refused to launch a probe, noting he is bound by the European Commission’s findings in 2000, which described the US data protection regime as “adequate and effective”.

Schrems disagreed and then took the case to the Ireland’s high court.

Indications from the high court suggest the judges in Luxembourg will have to determine whether the European Commission’s Safe Harbour would still bind national authorities.

Once an ECJ verdict is reached, the case will then go back to the high court in Ireland.

The Irish court would then deal with the matter as it sees fit using the interpretation of the EU law the court had just delivered.

“Any questions of the consequences, so any order for Facebook to do or not do something and any fines or punishment for not following those orders is entirely a matter for the national courts,” said a second contact at the Luxembourg EU arbiter.

The European Commission, for its part, admitted to deficiencies in the data exchange pact.

“As a result of a lack of transparency and enforcement on the US side, some companies do not, in practice, comply with the scheme,” said EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding earlier this year.

The Brussels-executive stopped short of scrapping the pact and instead issued a series of recommendations on what the Americans need to do stick to their side of the agreement.

MEPs want to scrap US data agreements

Frustrated MEPs want the EU to scrap data protection agreements with the US as they mount pressure on the member states to start negotiations on the EU data protection reforms.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Frontex's 'serious incident reports' - revealed
  2. Women hit 'disproportionately' hard by Covid-19, report finds
  3. EU 'Future' Conference plus Covid recovery talks This WEEK
  4. Covid-19 recovery: How to miss the target even with a bazooka
  5. Who cares? Precarious situation facing 21st century heroines
  6. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  7. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  8. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us