Facebook Privacy Lawsuit Starts In Austria

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A closely-watched data privacy lawsuit against Facebook has been filed in an Austrian court today

Austrian law graduate Max Schrems has started his data privacy lawsuit against Facebook, in a case that could prove pivotal to the way the social networking giant handles data.

The lawsuit alleges that Facebook undertakes “illegal” tracking of user data under EU law. This includes Facebook’s monitoring of users when they use the social network’s “like” buttons.

Schrems also claims that Facebook co-operated with the PRISM surveillance programme of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Lawsuit Filed

Facebook privacyThe case has been brought against Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin, as that unit registers all accounts outside the United States and Canada.

Thousands of Facebook users around the world have joined the lawsuit. Schrems however has limited the claimants to just 25,000 users (900 in the UK alone), but it is reported that a further 55,000 users have already registered to join the proceedings at a later stage.

Each of the 25,000 plaintiffs is claiming €500 (£360) in damages from Facebook.

“Basically we are asking Facebook to stop mass surveillance, to (have) a proper privacy policy that people can understand, but also to stop collecting data of people that are not even Facebook users,” 27-year-old Schrems was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying.

The court case began Thursday with Facebook’s lawyers reportedly presenting a long list of procedural objections to the class action. Essentially, they don’t believe the lawsuit is admissible under Austrian law.

“The lawsuit is inadmissible on the procedural level – the court is not responsible,” Facebook’s lawyer Nikolaus Pitkowitz was quoted by the Daily Mail as telling the judge. “It is unjustified in terms of content.”

Schrems in turn has accused Facebook of delaying tactics. “This is a typical strategy, because most consumers will run out of time and money,” he was quoted as saying.

The judge meanwhile said he would prepare a written decision on whether the court can handle the lawsuit before the summer.

Long Campaign

The Austrian lawsuit is the latest twist in a long-running saga.

Max Schrems has previously filed an official complaint against Facebook with the Irish data regulator. In that complaint, he argued that the Edward Snowden disclosures showed there is no effective data protection regime in the United States.

Indeed, Schrems has previously said that the 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 NSA. It said it only complies with requests when forced to by American law and unfortunately for Schrems, the Irish data regulator refused to make a ruling

Schrems then appealed to the Irish High Court. But in June 2014, the Irish High Court referred the decision up the ladder to the Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Last month the ECJ said it was 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 ECJ decision on the agreement is expected on 24 June, with the ECJ making its final decision after that.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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