Data protection groups seek to join key High Court case

Action initiated by Data Protection Commissioner could have huge international implications

 Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Digital Rights Ireland and a US-based civil liberties group want to be joined to a pending data protection case which could have huge international implications, the High Court has heard.

The US government earlier this week also secured leave to bring an application to be joined to the High Court action, initiated by Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon.

It follows her draft finding last month Austrian lawyer Max Schrems had raised “well-founded” objections that data transfers by Facebook Ireland to its parent in the US breach his data privacy rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

Mr Schrems brought a complaint to the commissioner here because Facebook has its European headquarters in Dublin.

Lawyers for the US government said on Monday it wants to be joined as an amicus curiae (assistant to the court on legal issues) because of the significant issues raised in the commissioner’s case.

Similar applications are being brought by the Business Software Alliance, representing the interests of internet giants including Apple, Microsoft and Intel; the Irish Business and Employers Confederation; and US Chamber of Commerce.

The issues have major significance for privacy rights of millions of EU citizens and for trade between the EU and US, the court heard.

Judge Brian McGovern has agreed to fast-track the commissioner’s case against Facebook Ireland in the Commercial Court, the big business division of the High Court. He also made directions for filing of legal documents concerning the applications to be joined to it.

On Friday, Ronan Lupton BL, for Digital Rights Ireland, previously an amicus in Mr Schrems own High Court case, said it too wants to be an amicus in the commissioner’s case.

Counsel said he was also representing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a California based civil liberties group advocating for international digital privacy, and it too wanted to be joined as an amicus.

The judge granted leave to bring those applications, to be decided at a later date along with the other amicus applications.

The judge has returned the case to June 27th.

In her action, the commissioner wants the High Court, if it shares her concerns about the validity of EU-US data transfers via channels now being used by Facebook and others, to refer key legal issues for determination by the Court of Justice of the EU.

Those issues relate to the validity under the EU Charter of data transfer channels, known as SCCs (standard contractual clauses) previously approved under European Commission decisions.