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Europe’s top court is deliberating Facebook and privacy issues, again.
On Monday, an attempt by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems to have a data protection case against Facebook heard as a class action suit moved a step ahead – when Austria’s Supreme Court referred the question to the European Court of Justice (CJEU).
But Facebook is questionin the right of Schrems, famous for winning a case that overturned the Safe Harbour system used by thousands of companies to transfer data from the European Union to the United States, to bring a Europe-wide class action on behalf of tens of thousands of consumers. (Schrems counters that “in simple terms, Facebook says you have to sit at home and be quiet about your claims – if you make your case public, you lose your rights as a consumer.”)
Schrems is claiming 500 euros ($562) in damages for each of more than 25,000 signatories to his lawsuit, one of a series of European challenges to U.S. technology firms and their handling of personal data. He accuses the social networking giant of “invalid privacy policies, illegal processing and sharing of personal data or participation in the US mass surveillance scandal” – a reference to the covert PRISM spying program first revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
This is only the latest episode in Schrems’ legal crusade: He challenged the Safe Harbour data exchange system with the United States on privacy grounds, resulting in a new commercial data pact between the EU and the United States taking effect in July.
But Schrems’ other case has so far been fended off by Facebook in Austrian courts due to procedural concerns, questioning Schrems’ status as a private Facebook consumer and whether the 25,000 plaintiffs were legally allowed to confer their rights on him.
“The Court of Justice (has been) rather consumer friendly when it decided over jurisdictions. I hope that we will see a similar decision in this case. Filing thousands of individual lawsuits before thousands of courts would be an absurd exercise,” Schrems said in an emailed statement.
Facebook responded in a statement: “Mr. Schrems’s claims have twice been rejected on the grounds that they cannot proceed as ‘class action’ on behalf of other consumers in Austrian courts.”
“We look forward to addressing the procedural questions presented to the CJEU to resolve these claims.”