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US To Defend Surveillance Practices In EU-Facebook Court Case

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Ted Goodman Contributor
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U.S. authorities were granted permission to join an EU court case examining the legality of Facebook’s cross-border data transfers, according to American news outlet, CNET.

Foreign countries currently see United States-based corporations and the government as hawkish in how they collect data and personal information of people at home and abroad.

The public exposure of clandestine U.S. surveillance programs such as PRISM, operated by the U.S. National Intelligence Agency, raised concerns internationally. Edward Snowden, Wikileaks and others exposed the complexity and depth of American surveillance of foreign citizens, including dozens of world leaders, over the years.

The case was brought forward by Austrian law student and data privacy activist Max Schrems, who questioned whether or not Facebook’s data was protected properly under European Union regulations. EU laws only permit the transfer of data across the Atlantic if the acting party guarantees the information is protected from foreign government surveillance programs.

The case is currently before the Irish High Court, as Facebook’s European headquarters is in Dublin, Ireland. Irish authorities will refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which is the EU’s highest court, according to CNET.

“The United States has a significant and bona fide interest in the outcome of these proceedings,” High Court judge Brian McGovern said, according to CNET. The ruling means the U.S. government can potentially offer legal opinion or testimony in the case.

McGovern explained that the imposition of restrictions on the transfer of such data by Facebook could affect U.S. companies significantly. Facebook is currently laying a powerful undersea cable across the Atlantic in order to increase the speed and efficiency of thier data transfers across the ocean.

The CJEU invalidated the “Safe Harbor” system, which allowed the free flow of data between the United States and the European Union, last year after concerns over the security of European personal data and information when it crosses into U.S. territory. The rejection of the Safe Harbor system ended 15 years of unregulated, open data transfer activity by companies ranging from health care providers to manufacturing companies.

The EU passed the EU-US Privacy Shield on July 12, to protect the personal data of EU citizens, as well as to clarify the laws and legal obligations of businesses that work with data and the transfer of information. Regulators balanced the protection of personal data with national security interests and economic interests.

The U.S. government will argue its perspective on surveillance programs before the EU’s highest court. It could be a potentially landmark case in data protection policy and information sharing. It is unclear how in-depth U.S. authorities will get into surveillance techniques and assurances that the data of foreign citizens will be protected when it is transferred to US soil.

Schrems said in a statement that, “The fact that the US government intervenes in this lawsuit, shows that we hit them from a relevant angle. The US can largely ignore the political critique on US mass surveillance, but it cannot ignore the economic relevance of EU-US data flows.”

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