Technology

Facebook: Irish data watchdog to probe data transfers to US

Max Schrems Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Max Schrems has succeeded in getting the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to audit Facebook's data transfers

An Irish watchdog is to investigate Facebook's data transfers to the US.

The Data Protection Commissioner told the High Court in Dublin that she now intends to carry out a quick investigation, having previously argued that the matter was outside her remit.

The case stems from a complaint by a privacy activist who has alleged that the social network "aids US spy agencies [with] mass surveillance".

The regulator's change of position follows a ruling by Europe's top court.

Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Safe Harbour trade pact - which made it easy for bodies to send data from the EU to the US for processing - was invalid.

As a result, it said, the DPC had an obligation to examine the allegations against Facebook, and ultimately decide whether to suspend transfers if it believed the firm was not providing an "adequate level of protection" for people's personal information.

Privacy campaigner Max Schrems has alleged that whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks indicate that data held by Facebook is being widely snooped upon by the NSA as part of a programme called Prism. This, he said, was a breach of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

"It will be very interesting to see if [the DPC] takes action, or if they will again find reasons to not do their job in providing protection to users of Irish services," said Mr Schrems.

"Given my experience I doubt that what is today mainly a 'tech business protection authority' will wake up tomorrow and turn into real 'data protection authority' - but I guess we'll see. soon."

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Mr Schrems noted that the court did not have to force the data regulator to investigate Facebook as it had already pledged to do so

The social network had initially hoped to take part in the proceedings in Dublin to correct what it said were "inaccuracies" about its reported procedures and processes.

However, there was no opportunity to do so because the DPC did not contest whether it should launch an investigation.

"Facebook is not and has never been part of any programme to give the US government direct access to our servers," said a spokeswoman for the firm.

"We will respond to enquiries from the Irish Data Protection Commission as they examine the protections for the transfer of personal data under applicable law."

The case involves the Irish data watchdog because Facebook's European headquarters is in Dublin.

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

However, it could set a precedent that influences how other EU regulators handle complaints about data transfers by other US tech giants.

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