The top European court asked to review the data sharing agreement between Europe and the US
The Irish High Court this week referred a decision about the snooping activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) up the ladder to the European Court of Justice. At issue is whether handing data to the NSA is breach of fundamental rights.
Acting on a case brought by an Austrian student group europe-v-facebook.org, the Irish court has asked the European Court of Justice to review an EU/US data protection agreement.
The Irish court asked for the top European body to review the data sharing agreement in light of the allegations that Facebook (albeit reluctantly) shares the data of EU citizens with the NSA.
The group pressing for this review was apparently dissatisfied after the Irish data watchdog said there was no grounds for such an investigation. The Irish courts are being used because many American tech companies have their European headquarters located in Ireland. Facebook for example has its European headquarters in that country.
Max Schrems, an Austrian post-graduate law student, is the founder and driving force behind the europe-v-facebook group, and he argues in his complaint that the Edward Snowden disclosures show that there is no effective data protection regime in the United States.
Snowden alleged that a US surveillance programme known as Prism, allows the NSA to access emails, video clips, photographs, voice and video calls, social networking details, logins and other personal data held by a range of tech firms, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others.
High Court Justice Gerard Hogan was quoted by Reuters as saying on Wednesday that given the Safe Harbour agreement, which says that US has sufficient data safeguards in place, the Irish regulator did not have the authority to investigate.
If Safe Harbour stands, the student group’s application must fail, he reportedly said. “The critical issue which arises is whether the proper interpretation of the 1995 [EU data protection] directive and the 2000 Commission decision [on the Safe Harbour principles] should be re-evaluated in the light of the subsequent entry into force of article 8 of the EU charter,” on the right to the protection of personal data, Hogan said.
This Safe Harbour agreement permits US companies to gather customer information in Europe and send it to the United States, as long as certain criteria are met.
“The whole Prism, NSA spying thing is thereby in front of the highest court in Europe, which is going to be very interesting,” Max Schrems was quoted as saying. “Any ruling will apply to any other US companies that have participated in PRISM,” he said, adding that he thought there was a “very good chance” of having Safe Harbour overturned.
Last month, Privacy International filed a compliant against GCHQ, saying its intrusive malware operations violate articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights
And earlier this week the UK government admitted to a policy of intercepting British citizens’ Facebook, Google and Twitter data by using separate laws that apply to international communications.
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