Now, as part of that investigation, the European Commission has just admitted to the Court of Justice (CJEU) that it could not “ensure” privacy for the personal information of its citizens or for data transfers sent outside the union. In other words, Europeans who use Facebook and other U.S. Internet companies, which enable the U.S. government to access user data for law enforcement, espionage, and anti-terror purposes, do so at their own risk. How do you think the U.S. feels about that?
All of this emanates from Europe’s long history of supporting and protecting the online privacy rights of its citizenry. Case and point, look at its reaction to Google. Numerous European countries have filed lawsuits and levied fines against Google for privacy violations. The EU has threatened to declare Google a monopoly. And just last year, Google lost a European decision that forced it to remove information on individuals from search engines when requested by that individual.
Did you know the EU used to not allow its citizenry to send personal data outside of Europe? It’s a true story. In 2000 however, the European Commission passed a Safe Harbor directive, a voluntary framework that allowed personal information of Europeans to be sent to the United States as long as the United States maintained adequate levels of data privacy protection.
The European Commission’s admission this week calls into question the whole Safe Harbor directive it helped create. The EU Parliament has said as much with its multiple calls for the Safe Harbor agreement to be suspended. The European Department of Privacy Supervisor similarly requested that the United States take responsibility by improving its privacy protection.
To those who laughed at Schrems’ lawsuit, be forewarned that Schrems has a long history of success against Facebook. He was the first European to request Facebook disclose any information the social network had on him. That request led to his receiving more than 1,000 pages of content. And In 2012, he made Facebook retire its photo-tagging suggestion feature after successfully arguing that it violated people’s privacy. That’s why in part he was featured in the 2013 award-winning documentary film by Cullen Hoback; Terms and Conditions May Apply.
Schrems’ lawsuit has received very little coverage in the United States, mainly because it only indirectly involves us and secondly because Facebook has gone silent on the whole topic, in hopes that by ignoring the claim, it could show the claim lacks merit. In the rest of the world however, this story has become much bigger news. How big? When Schrems filed his lawsuit, he offered any Facebook user outside the U.S. and Canada the opportunity to join. Within days of his filing, Schrems found himself with requests from close to 7,000 Facebook users per day from more than 100 countries. At peak times, someone joined Schrems’ suit every six seconds. Not bad for a day’s work.
Schrems has since locked the number of backers at 25,000, which he reached many months ago. Users can still register as interested parties however, should the suit expand. In the meantime, Schrems has lined up government representatives from Austria, Belgium, Poland, and Ireland on his behalf.
Schrems quest for user privacy reiterates the power that we as law-abiding citizens have to express our right to privacy. It has to be maintained as a natural right, plain and simple. It makes us who we are and gives us the freedom of thought and expression. It’s not an entitlement issue nor is it another oppressive cog in our class struggle. It’s a natural born right. This is why we are seeing a revolution by people in support of their rights and privacy supporting apps such as MeWe, DuckDuckGo, and Wickr.
So what now? The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice will give his opinion on June 24th. Where the suit goes from there, who knows? What we do know however, is that the rock fired by Schrems at Facebook, although not a direct hit between the eyes, could still prove a painful blow to the social media giant and a decisive victory for privacy advocates.