Facebook warns it may be forced to leave EU

Facebook has warned that it may be forced to pull out of Europe if the Irish data protection commissioner enforces a ban on sharing data with the US.

This follows the landmark ruling in July by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the case brought by Max Schrems, which found there were insufficient safeguards for personal data interference by US intelligence agencies.

A court filing in Dublin revealed Facebook’s associate general counsel Yvonne Cunnane wrote that enforcing the ban would leave the company unable to operate.

“In the event that [Facebook] were subject to a complete suspension of the transfer of users’ data to the US, it is not clear … how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU.”

Facebook denied the filing was a threat, stating that the documents “set out the simple reality that Facebook, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate their services”.

It added that a lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU.

In 2011, Austrian lawyer and data privacy campaigner Max Schrems began filing complaints with the Irish data protection commissioner, which regulates Facebook in the EU; eventually reaching the ECJ.

In 2015, that court found that because of US National Security Agency program PRISM – which collects internet communications of US companies - the Safe Harbour agreement, which allowed US companies to transfer the data of EU citizens, was invalid.

The EU attempted a second legal agreement for the data transfers called Privacy Shield, but that too was invalidated this summer.

In September, the Irish data protection commissioner began the process of enforcing that ruling, issuing a preliminary order compelling Facebook to suspend data transfers overseas.

Nick Clegg, the company’s head of global affairs and communications, published a blogpost that argued that international data transfers underpin the global economy.

“In the worst-case scenario, this could mean that a small tech startup in Germany would no longer be able to use a US-based cloud provider, or a Spanish product development company could no longer be able to run an operation across multiple time zones,” he stated, adding: “We support global rules that can ensure consistent treatment of data around the world.”

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