Facebook loses attempt to block suspension of EU-US data flows

14 May 2021

Image: © Denys Prykhodov/Stock.adobe.com

Facebook was seeking to block a decision by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission that could halt the flow of user data across the Atlantic.

The Irish High Court has dismissed Facebook’s efforts to block a decision that could suspend data transfers between the EU and the US.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) ordered Facebook, in a draft decision, to suspend data transfers between the two jurisdictions last year. This move came in the wake of a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that invalidated the transatlantic data transfer mechanism Privacy Shield.

Facebook sought a judicial review against this decision by the DPC but it was rejected today (14 May) by the High Court.

This means that the DPC can now proceed with an inquiry into Facebook that could ultimately lead to a suspension of its transatlantic data flows. It also means that the DPC now has two open procedures into transatlantic data transfers.

“Facebook lost on every ground. Its attempt to again delay the Irish decision bought them only a couple of months. After eight years, the DPC is now required to stop Facebook’s EU-US data transfers, likely before summer. Now we simply have two procedures instead of one,” said Max Schrems, the privacy campaigner who took the initial case that led to Privacy Shield’s ouster.

The implications of the High Court’s ruling could be far-reaching.

The Privacy Shield agreement was struck down by the EU courts in large part due to diverging rules around data protection in the US and EU. This means that when a European’s data is transferred to the US, there are little or no protections in place for that data of a similar standard to Europe.

Cillian Kieran, chief executive of data security start-up Ethyca, said Facebook’s “comprehensive loss” today shows how difficult it is becoming to move data internationally.

“The ruling shows that more than ever, the US needs federal privacy regulation. Every day without it, US businesses are losing their footing in the global market,” he said.

“The EU continues to set the standard for privacy worldwide, while the US is playing a costly game of catching up. Costly to their bottom line and their international standing.”

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin