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Paul Merrell

Challenge to data transfer tool used by Facebook will go to Europe's top court | TechCr... - 1 views

  • The five-week court hearing in what is a complex case delving into detail on US surveillance operations took place in February. The court issued its ruling today. The 153-page ruling starts by noting “this is an unusual case”, before going into a detailed discussion of the arguments and concluding that the DPC’s concerns about the validity of SCCs should be referred to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. Schrems is also the man responsible for bringing, in 2013, a legal challenge that ultimately struck down Safe Harbor — the legal mechanism that had oiled the pipe for EU-US personal data flows for fifteen years before the ECJ ruled it to be invalid in October 2015. Schrems’ argument had centered on U.S. government mass surveillance programs, as disclosed via the Snowden leaks, being incompatible with fundamental European privacy rights. After the ECJ struck down Safe Harbor he then sought to apply the same arguments against Facebook’s use of SCCs — returning to Ireland to make the complaint as that’s where the company has its European HQ. It’s worth noting that the European Commission has since replaced Safe Harbor with a new (and it claims more robust) data transfer mechanism, called the EU-US Privacy Shield — which is now, as Safe Harbor was, used by thousands of businesses. Although that too is facing legal challenges as critics continue to argue there is a core problem of incompatibility between two distinct legal regimes where EU privacy rights collide with US mass surveillance.
  • In a written statement on the ruling Schrems added: “I welcome the judgement by the Irish High Court. It is important that a neutral Court outside of the US has summarized the facts on US surveillance in a judgement, after diving through more than 45,000 pages of documents in a five week hearing.
  • Making a video statement outside court in Dublin today, Schrems said the Irish court had dismissed Facebook’s argument that the US government does not undertake any surveillance.
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  • Schrems’ Safe Harbor challenge also started in the Irish Court before being ultimately referred to the ECJ. So there’s more than a little legal deja vu here, especially given the latest development in the case. In its ruling on the SCC issue, the Irish Court noted that a US ombudsperson position created under Privacy Shield to handle EU citizens complaints about companies’ handling of their data is not enough to overcome what it described as “well founded concerns” raised by the DPC regarding the adequacy of the protections for EU citizens data.
  • On Facebook, he also said: “In simple terms, US law requires Facebook to help the NSA with mass surveillance and EU law prohibits just that. As Facebook is subject to both jurisdictions, they got themselves in a legal dilemma that they cannot possibly solve in the long run.”
  • While Schrems’ original complaint pertained to Facebook, the Irish DPC’s position means many more companies that use the mechanism could face disruption if SCCs are ultimately invalidated as a result of the legal challenge to their validity.
Paul Merrell

EU-US Personal Data Privacy Deal 'Cracked Beyond Repair' - 0 views

  • Privacy Shield is the proposed new deal between the EU and the US that is supposed to safeguard all personal data on EU citizens held on computer systems in the US from being subject to mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency. The data can refer to any transaction — web purchases, cars or clothing — involving an EU citizen whose data is held on US servers. Privacy groups say Privacy Shield — which replaces the Safe Harbor agreement ruled unlawful in October 2015 — does not meet strict EU standard on the use of personal data. Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) told Sputnik: “We consider that the shield is cracked beyond repair and is unlikely to stand scrutiny by the European Court of Justice. A fundamental problem remains that the US side of the shield is made of clay, not iron.”
  • The agreement has been under negotiation for months ever since the because the European Court of Justice ruled in October 2015 that the previous EU-US data agreement — Safe Harbor — was invalid. The issue arises from the strict EU laws — enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — to the privacy of their personal data.
  • The Safe Harbor agreement was a quasi-judicial understanding that the US undertook to agree that it would ensure that EU citizens’ data on US servers would be held and protected under the same restrictions as it would be under EU law and directives. The data covers a huge array of information — from Internet and communications usage, to sales transactions, import and exports.
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  • The case arose when Maximillian Schrems, a Facebook user, lodged a complaint with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, arguing that — in the light of the revelations by ex-CIA contractor Edward Snowden of mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) — the transfer of data from Facebook’s Irish subsidiary onto the company’s servers in the US does not provide sufficient protection of his personal data. The court ruled that: “the Safe Harbor Decision denies the national supervisory authorities their powers where a person calls into question whether the decision is compatible with the protection of the privacy and of the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals.”
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    Off we go for another trip to the European Court of Justice.
Paul Merrell

Spies and internet giants are in the same business: surveillance. But we can stop them ... - 0 views

  • On Tuesday, the European court of justice, Europe’s supreme court, lobbed a grenade into the cosy, quasi-monopolistic world of the giant American internet companies. It did so by declaring invalid a decision made by the European commission in 2000 that US companies complying with its “safe harbour privacy principles” would be allowed to transfer personal data from the EU to the US. This judgment may not strike you as a big deal. You may also think that it has nothing to do with you. Wrong on both counts, but to see why, some background might be useful. The key thing to understand is that European and American views about the protection of personal data are radically different. We Europeans are very hot on it, whereas our American friends are – how shall I put it? – more relaxed.
  • Given that personal data constitutes the fuel on which internet companies such as Google and Facebook run, this meant that their exponential growth in the US market was greatly facilitated by that country’s tolerant data-protection laws. Once these companies embarked on global expansion, however, things got stickier. It was clear that the exploitation of personal data that is the core business of these outfits would be more difficult in Europe, especially given that their cloud-computing architectures involved constantly shuttling their users’ data between server farms in different parts of the world. Since Europe is a big market and millions of its citizens wished to use Facebook et al, the European commission obligingly came up with the “safe harbour” idea, which allowed companies complying with its seven principles to process the personal data of European citizens. The circle having been thus neatly squared, Facebook and friends continued merrily on their progress towards world domination. But then in the summer of 2013, Edward Snowden broke cover and revealed what really goes on in the mysterious world of cloud computing. At which point, an Austrian Facebook user, one Maximilian Schrems, realising that some or all of the data he had entrusted to Facebook was being transferred from its Irish subsidiary to servers in the United States, lodged a complaint with the Irish data protection commissioner. Schrems argued that, in the light of the Snowden revelations, the law and practice of the United States did not offer sufficient protection against surveillance of the data transferred to that country by the government.
  • The Irish data commissioner rejected the complaint on the grounds that the European commission’s safe harbour decision meant that the US ensured an adequate level of protection of Schrems’s personal data. Schrems disagreed, the case went to the Irish high court and thence to the European court of justice. On Tuesday, the court decided that the safe harbour agreement was invalid. At which point the balloon went up. “This is,” writes Professor Lorna Woods, an expert on these matters, “a judgment with very far-reaching implications, not just for governments but for companies the business model of which is based on data flows. It reiterates the significance of data protection as a human right and underlines that protection must be at a high level.”
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  • This is classic lawyerly understatement. My hunch is that if you were to visit the legal departments of many internet companies today you would find people changing their underpants at regular intervals. For the big names of the search and social media worlds this is a nightmare scenario. For those of us who take a more detached view of their activities, however, it is an encouraging development. For one thing, it provides yet another confirmation of the sterling service that Snowden has rendered to civil society. His revelations have prompted a wide-ranging reassessment of where our dependence on networking technology has taken us and stimulated some long-overdue thinking about how we might reassert some measure of democratic control over that technology. Snowden has forced us into having conversations that we needed to have. Although his revelations are primarily about government surveillance, they also indirectly highlight the symbiotic relationship between the US National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ on the one hand and the giant internet companies on the other. For, in the end, both the intelligence agencies and the tech companies are in the same business, namely surveillance.
  • And both groups, oddly enough, provide the same kind of justification for what they do: that their surveillance is both necessary (for national security in the case of governments, for economic viability in the case of the companies) and conducted within the law. We need to test both justifications and the great thing about the European court of justice judgment is that it starts us off on that conversation.
Paul Merrell

Belgium sues Facebook over illegal Privacy Violations of Users and Non-Users | nsnbc in... - 0 views

  • The Belgian government will be suing Facebook. The Commission for the Protection of Privacy states that Facebook violates Belgian and EU law by tracking systems that target both Facebook users as well as non-Facebook users. Facebook is known for cooperating with the U.S.’ National Security Agency. 
  • The Belgian privacy watchdog’s case against the internet giant Facebook will be heard at a court in Brussels on Thursday. The Commission has repeatedly requested that Facebook should comply with Belgian and EU law. Facebook failed to comply, and the Commission has no power to enforce the law; hence the decision to sue Facebook to attain a a court ruling. The President of the Commission for the Protection of Privacy, Willem Debeuckelaere, told the press that: “Facebook treats its users’ private lives without respect and that needs tackling. It’s not because we want to start a lawsuit over this, but we cannot continue to negotiate through other means. .. We want a judge to impose our recommendations. These recommendations are chiefly aimed at protecting internet users who are not Facebook members.”
  • The Belgian privacy watchdog alleges that Facebook tracks the web browsing of all visitors, including those who have specifically turned the tracking function off; This gathering of private information allegedly also includes those who do not have a Facebook account. Moreover, the Commission claims that Facebook has the capability to surveil computers without consent, even when users are logged out; and Facebook can monitor every PC of users that use websites with Facebook plugins. The capability to monitor both Facebook users and non-Facebook users allegedly functions via Cookies that store information about user’s internet activities, including preferential settings of websites and which websites internet users have visited. The Commission claims that Facebook installs these Cookies on all computers that visit websites that for example have a Facebook plugin to share internet content. That includes the computers of persons who do not make use of Facebook’s “share” or “like” button.
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  • In other words, Facebook has the capacity to monitor your browser settings as well as which websites you have visited if you have read this article or any other article on any website that contains a Facebook “share” button, whether you “like” it or not. The Commissions lawsuit against Facebook is or particular importance due to the fact that the corporation is known for its cooperation with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). While the lawsuit is of particular interest for Belgian and EU citizens, it also sheds light on Facebook’s monitoring of U.S. citizens.
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