Ireland’s High Court approves bid by US govt to join pivotal data case

19 Jul 2016

Privacy advocate Max Schrems has welcomed the development to get answers on surveillance as part of a public procedure

The High Court of Ireland has granted an unprecedented application by the US government to join a pivotal case concerning EU-US data transfer channels.

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found that EU-US data transfer channels used by Facebook are invalid because of inadequate US legal protection for EU citizens’ privacy rights.

Last week, reported that the US government made an application – unprecedented in Irish court history – to join the action by Dixon to establish the legality of Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs) that govern daily EU-US data transfers.

‘The United States has a significant and bona fide interest in the outcome of these proceedings’

Future Human

The legal action questions whether EU-US data transfer channels unlawfully breach the privacy rights of EU citizens.

Last week, Facebook warned that if the decision by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner is upheld it could cost the European digital economy €143bn per year.

“The United States has a significant and bona fide interest in the outcome of these proceedings,” Justice Brian McGovern said.

“The imposition of restrictions on the transfer of such data would have potentially considerable adverse effects on EU-US commerce and could affect US companies significantly.”

Opportunity to get answers on mass surveillance

Last May, Dixon said that Austrian lawyer and privacy advocate Max Schrems raised “well-founded” objections to the validity of SCCs.

The case is vital as it may affect the final wording of the EU-US Privacy Shield designed to replace the outmoded Safe Harbour.

“This may be a unique opportunity for us,” Schrems said in a statement last month. “I therefore very much welcome that the US government will get involved in this case.

“This is a huge chance to finally get solid answers in a public procedure. I am very much looking forward to raise all the uncomfortable questions on US surveillance programs in this procedure.

“It will be very interesting how the US government will react to the clear evidence already before the court,” Schrems said.

US government image via Shutterstock

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