The top advisor to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will give his opinion on the so-called Europe versus Facebook case on 23 September.
The ECJ revealed on Monday that Advocate General Yves Bot’s opinion would be given later this month after it was postponed in June.
The case involves “Angry Austrian” Max Schrems, who complained to the Irish Data Commissioner that Facebook had passed his personal data on to the US National Security Agency in breach of his data protection rights. The Irish data protection authorities (DPA) refused to investigate on the grounds that Facebook is signed up to the so-called safe harbour agreement.
Undeterred, Schrems took the DPA to the Irish High Court who then passed the hot potato on to the ECJ.
Although not legally binding, Bot’s opinion will be a clear indicator of how the ECJ is likely to eventually rule on the case. The final ruling by 15 judges of the highest court in the European Union is expected later this year.
If it finds the safe harbour agreement unfit for purpose, it would have huge implications for EU-US data transfers. Since the United States does not meet the EU’s high standards for adequate data protection, companies like Facebook, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Microsoft et al, can sign up to the voluntary Safe Harbour code of conduct which is then legally enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
The revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the scale of data interception by the NSA under the PRISM programme and led eventually to a vote in the European Parliament calling for the safe harbour programme to be suspended. However, the EU executive, the European Commission, was reluctant to do so and instead pinned its hopes on renegotiating the terms of the agreement. ®
For even longer, the EU and US have been trying to reach an agreement on data transfers between the two blocs’ law enforcement agencies – safe harbour only applies to companies. Reuters reported on Monday that the two sides are close to a deal, saying that the text has been worked out and all that remains is for the US to introduce a law that would give EU citizens the same right to judicial redress as Americans enjoy in Europe.