The EU’s top court has recently struck down an important key transatlantic agreement that could prevent Facebook and other technology companies to send the personal data of European nationals across the Atlantic. The major deal followed a case lodged by Max Strems, an Austrian law student, who said that the 2000 “Safe Harbor” agreement between the EU and the United States was not strong enough to protect European data.
As a result, the European Court of Justice said Safe Harbor was “invalid” and now it has to decide whether transfers of personal information to Facebook in the US should be suspended. The court addressed authorities in Ireland where Facebook has its European headquarters and where Mr Schrems lodged the case as well. He commented that the Court’s message was clear – “mass surveillance is not possible in Europe (and is) against fundamental rights”.
Edward Snowden, an American privacy activist and former CIA employee, who leaked classified information from the US National Security Agency in 2013, said that Max Schrems had “changed the world for the better.” He also wrote on his Twitter that “Europe’s high court just struck down a major law routinely abused for surveillance”. The new ruling could make companies keep European users’ personal data in Europe, which would in turn require them to have enough data storage capacity there.
However, Washington commented that it was “deeply disappointed” by the Court’s decision saying that the ruling “creates significant uncertainty for both US and EU companies and consumers, and puts at risk the thriving transatlantic digital economy”. Many Internet giants – Facebook, Amazon or Google – heavily rely on Safe Harbor to legally transfer huge amounts of personal data elsewhere.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation commented that “aside from taking an axe to the undersea fiber optic cables connecting Europe to the United States, it is hard to imagine a more disruptive action to transatlantic digital commerce”. It added that “Safe Harbor agreement has been the cornerstone of the transatlantic digital economy since before global companies like Facebook were founded.”