High Court hears from US NGO in major privacy case

Four CourtsIn a rare move, the High Court yesterday heard from a US NGO permitted to join a major privacy case as amicus curiae.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is appearing as an amicus in the case of Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook & Max Schrems on privacy protection for transatlantic data transfers. The US government is also appearing as an amicus in the case.

Legal rights group FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is representing EPIC in the case as it provides expert evidence on whether personal data transferred by Facebook Ireland to Facebook US receives adequate legal protection.

This is one of the first times an NGO such as EPIC has been granted leave to appear as an amicus curiae in an Irish court. EPIC’s legal counsel Alan Butler has travelled from the US to Ireland for the case.

FLAC said EPIC can provide the court with “a comprehensive assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the US legal system as to how it protects the personal data of people resident in the EU, including Ireland”, which might not otherwise be available.

Yesterday, counsel for EPIC focused on concerns around privacy protection for foreign communications and other personal data under US surveillance law, and legal redress for EU citizens who wish to challenge US surveillance and the interception of personal data.

EPIC addressed the inadequacy of privacy safeguards for EU citizens, stating that US privacy protections are limited in scope; that personal data and communications of non-US persons are excluded from important US privacy safeguards; and that many privacy rules are subject to Executive Branch modification or repeal.

It also examined the lack of effective redress for EU citizens. EPIC says that US law does not provide EU citizens with effective redress for violations of their Charter rights arising from authorized surveillance. It believes remedies that permit challenges to unauthorized surveillance are effectively untenable, and that EU Citizens’ Data Protection rights of access and correction are strictly limited under the Judicial Redress Act and are subject to discretionary policies that are revocable by the Executive. Finally, EPIC said overarching barriers to redress are likely to preclude EU citizens’ legal claims involving US surveillance.