Data Protection Commissioner urged to halt EU data transfers to US

17 Feb 2017

Image: kb-photodesign/Shutterstock

Ireland must halt data transfers to the US, says Max Schrems.

Austrian lawyer Max Schrems has told the High Court that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) must suspend transfers of data of EU citizens to the US.

As the epic case involving the DPC, Schrems, Facebook and the US government rumbles on, the outcome could have implications for hundreds of millions of EU citizens.

Schrems is the lawyer who brought about an end to Safe Harbour two years ago, paving the road for the Privacy Shield, which has yet to be truly tested. His case was inspired by his own experience of US executive attitudes to private data, and came in the wake of revelations by Edward Snowden on how US and UK spy agencies were in collusion in the use of PRISM to spy on ordinary European citizens’ data.

The case would be something of a philosophical or ideological one, if not for the fact that the implications are very serious.

Why this data case matters

On the one hand, Irish DPC Helen Dixon is seeking to clarify existing rules on standard contractual clauses (SCCs) that companies such as Facebook are using to validate the shuttling of data to the US, even after Safe Harbour’s demise.

But it is practical too, because it raises the ultimate question about Privacy Shield’s ability to defend ordinary people if a case had to be heard in a US court, for example.

On the surface, it looks like Schrems and the DPC are aligned, but that is not entirely true.

The DPC wants the matter to go to the EU court of justice, but Schrems wants the data transfers to stop immediately.

According to the Irish Independent, Schrems’s solicitor Eoin McCullough SC told the High Court yesterday that Schrems believes his EU data rights are being trampled upon by the transfer of his personal data by Facebook Ireland to its parent in the US.

Schrems believes the DPC has enough information and the powers to decide to suspend the transfer of such data.

Facebook’s lawyer Paul Gallagher SC described Schrems’s demands as “extraordinary” and warned that the case could have massive implications for Facebook and other internet companies, as well as small companies engaged in international trade.

The case continues.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years