Irish court hears Facebook data privacy challenge

Facebook logo Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The High Court had referred the case to the European Court of Justice last year

The High Court in Dublin is to resume a case in which a privacy campaigner is trying to block Facebook from sending EU citizens' personal data to the US.

Max Schrems wants the court to order the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to audit Facebook to see what material it passes on to the US authorities.

The privacy watchdog had previously said the transfers were protected under the Safe Harbour trade agreement.

But a fortnight ago the European Court of Justice ruled the pact invalid.

The ECJ said that as a consequence the Irish regulator was indeed required to examine Mr Schrems' complaint with "all due diligence" and ultimately decide whether to suspend transfers if it believed the firm was not providing an "adequate level of protection" to protect people's privacy.

Following the ruling, the Irish data commissioner sought guidance from the High Court about how it should proceed, resulting in the latest proceedings.

Seeking a voice

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The case is being pursued by Austrian law student Max Schrems

Mr Schrems alleges that whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks demonstrate that Facebook - as well as other technology companies - "aids US spy agencies for mass surveillance" in breach of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Facebook strongly denies providing "backdoor" access to the US intelligence agencies and says its data-transfer processes were reviewed by the Irish watchdog as recently as 2012.

The social network, whose European headquarters is in Dublin, has requested permission to voice its case at the High Court, but has yet to find out whether it will be permitted to do so.

"We believe it is critical that we join the proceedings so that we can provide accurate information about our procedures and processes, as well as to correct inaccuracies that already exist," a Facebook spokeswoman told the BBC.

Mr Schrems has previously cast doubt on what information the California-based company might provide.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Facebook is being challenged in Ireland's courts because its EU headquarters are in Dublin

"Facebook is very likely bound by 'gag orders' and is not allowed to confirm such cooperation with US authorities," he wrote earlier this month.

"Facebook spokespersons [who comment on the matter] typically do not have the necessary security clearance to know about such programmes themselves."

The case could set a precedent that influences how other EU regulators handle complaints about data sent to US-based computer servers for processing and storage.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Data Protection Commissioner said it was not yet clear when the High Court would rule on how the dispute should proceed.

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