June will see the decision by the top European court on the data sharing agreement between the US and Europe
Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), is considering the current data sharing agreement between America and Europe.
The current Safe Harbour deal has been in place since 2000, and effectively allows US firms such as Google and Facebook to collect data on their European users, as long as certain principles around storage and security are upheld.
That agreement means that user data gathered in Europe can easily be stored legally in data centres within the US.
But this has not sat well with an Austrian lawyer Max Schrems, who began the Europe-v-Facebook campaign. In his complaint, he argues that the Edward Snowden disclosures show there is no effective data protection regime in the United States.
Indeed, Schrems says that Snowden revelations reveal that agreed privacy practices are being ignored by Facebook and other tech firms. Facebook has (albeit reluctantly) admitted in the past that it shares the data of EU citizens with the National Security Agency (NSA). It said it only complies with requests when forced to by American law.
To stop this, Schrems filed a compliant against Facebook in Ireland last year, the location of Facebook’s European headquarters. He wanted the Irish data protection watchdog to investigate Facebook’s data sharing with the NSA.
However it refused, and Schrems then appealed to the Irish High Court. But in June 2014, the Irish High Court referred the decision about the snooping activities of the NSA up the ladder to the ECJ.
And the ECJ decision on the agreement may be only months away. According to the BBC, at a hearing in Luxembourg on Tuesday the ECJ Advocate General said he would give his final opinion on 24 June.
And then the ECJ will make its final decision after that.
If the ECJ rules against the agreement, it could have a significant impact on the business practices of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others, as it would likely mean that transferring European data to the US much more difficult.
It could also potentially mean that tech firms have to duplicate their American infrastructure by constructing additional data centres in Europe, in order to keep European data on European soil.
Last year, Europe’s top data protection official, Peter Hustinx, said that European citizens need to be better shielded from the snooping and spying activities from the likes of the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ.
President Obama also known to be pressuring the US Congress to enact legislation to allow European citizens to sue the United States over the misuse of their personal data.
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