Following Edward Snowden’s disturbing revelations that Facebook has leaked private data to the NSA, including that of EU users, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has decided to investigate the allegations as part of their effort to understand the extent to which Prism, the mass surveillance programme, has impacted the European citizens.
Austrian privacy activist and security expert Max Schrems is the one who brought the case in front of the High Court of Dublin. Schrems graduated as a law student and has filed more than 22 complaints against major companies breaching their privacy agreements and leaking data to the NSA. His decision to take this to court was a result of the Data Protection Committee refusing to investigate the claim, in part due to the controversial character of the activist. The decision remains to be made by the ECJ as the High Court adjourned the case.
While the initial ruling was that the transfer of data between the EU and the US falls under the Safe Harbor agreement established in July 2000, Schrems claimed that this is not entirely true since the data was transmitted indiscriminately. The lack of probable cause suggests that the data was used for mass surveillance purposes rather than constitutionally legal purposes such as suppression of crime and national security.
Following these conclusions, the High Court judge decided to adjourn the case and forward it to the ECJ, stating that in the span of 14 years since the Safe Harbor agreement was signed, the EU-US collaboration context faced a considerable shift.
“For such interception of communications to be constitutionally valid, it would, accordingly, be necessary to demonstrate that this interception and surveillance of individuals or groups of individuals was objectively justified in the interests of the suppression of crime and national security and, further, that any such interception was attended by the appropriate and verifiable safeguards,” Judge Hogan said.
“Only the foolish would deny that the US has, by virtue of its superpower status, either assumed — or, if you prefer, has had cast upon it — far-reaching global security responsibilities,” he said.
“It is probably the only world power with a global reach which can effectively monitor the activities of rogue states, advanced terrorist groups and major organised crime, even if the support of allied states such as the UK is also of great assistance.
“The monitoring of global communications — subject, of course, to key safeguards — is accordingly regarded essential if the US is to discharge the mandate which it has assumed.
“These surveillance programmes have undoubtedly saved many lives and have helped to ensure a high level of security, both throughout the western world and elsewhere.
“But there may also be suspicion in some quarters that this type of surveillance has had collateral objects and effects, including the preservation and reinforcing of American global political and economic power.”
He requested that the ECJ specifically evaluate whether the Irish Data Protection Commissions is legally bound by the agreement and make a ruling based on this conclusion. The judge also made a more general request, asking the European Court to rule whether the Irish authorities can launch an investigation into Edward Snowden’s allegations regarding the NSA communications interception across the country.
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