By Heini Järvinen

On 18 June 2014 Ireland’s High Court referred the request to investigate Facebook’s international headquarters in Ireland over its involvement in the PRISM scandal to the European Court of Justice (CJEU). CJEU was asked to review the case and to clarify whether the social network’s actions are compatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner was initially requested to investigate Facebook’s involvement in releasing email addresses and other private data of its European users to the US National Security Agency (NSA) as part of NSA’s mass electronic surveillance programme known as PRISM. The Commissioner rejected the request presented by an Austrian campaign group Europe v Facebook, arguing that there were no grounds for an investigation since Facebook’s data transfers were covered by the Safe Harbour agreement. The agreement allows registered US companies to gather customer information in Europe and send it to the US beyond the EU’s legal jurisdiction. After the rejection by Irish Data Protection Commissioner, the case was brought to The Irish High Court.

The Irish High Court referred the case to the CJEU. High Court Justice Gerard Hogan explained that, based on the Safe Harbour agreement, the US has sufficient data safeguards in place and the Irish regulator did not have the authority to investigate the case, and the issue is thus related to the efficacy of the Safe Harbour agreement, rather than to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s actions.

“The whole PRISM, NSA spying thing is thereby in front of the highest court in Europe, which is going to be very interesting,” said Max Schrems, founder of Europe v Facebook. “Any ruling will apply to any other US companies that have participated in PRISM,” he added.

Schrems estimated that there is a “very good chance” of having the Safe Harbour agreement overturned.

Europe v Facebook: higher court to decide on giving data to spies (19.06.2014)
http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/europe-v-facebook-higher-court-to-decide-on-giving-data-to-spies-30367044.html#sthash.RQTRVnFc.dpuf

European court to rule on Facebook privacy case (18.06.2014)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/10909153/European-Court-of-Justice-to-rule-on-Facebook-privacy.html

Facebook: Irish judge refers internet privacy case to European Court of Justice (18.06.2014)
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27900531

Data sharing deal with U.S. referred to EU’s top court (18.06.2014)
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/18/us-facebook-privacy-idUSKBN0ET11X20140618

Irish High Court: European Court of Justice will decide over Facebook/PRISM (18.06.2014)
http://www.europe-v-facebook.org/PRISM_pa_en.pdf

The Safe Harbour agreement
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2000:215:0007:0047:EN:PDF