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EU Warns Users To Leave Facebook To Protect Their Privacy

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

The European Commission (EC) has issued a blunt warning to all EU citizens, “Close your Facebook account or be prepared to compromise on your privacy”. The statement was released by EC attorney Bernhard Schima with regards to a court case that asked whether it was safe for European citizens to transmit their private data to American companies in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Speaking at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, Schima said that EU citizens who wish to protect their private data must consider leaving Facebook for good.

The privacy case was filed by Austrian law student and privacy activist Max Schrems who is also the founder of Europe vs Facebook group. Max has run multiple campaigns against Facebook and other American companies in order to raise awareness about the violation of European privacy laws by these organizations as well as to highlight the transfer of personal data of European citizens to American shores. He was also in the news recently when an Austrian court granted him the permission to file a class action lawsuit against Facebook.

Max filed the case, also dubbed as Facebook data privacy case, against leading social media companies as well as Apple, Microsoft, Skype and Yahoo since he had concerns regarding the transfer of personal data of European Facebook users to the American spy agency NSA. He also wanted to know whether or not such data transfer could be protected with the Safe Harbor legislation, the law governing the transmission of data from EU to US. The US-EU Safe Harbor legislation was developed by the US Department of Commerce in conjunction with the European Union to prevent accidental disclosure or loss of private data. It is illegal for private organizations that are not from EU to send private data of European citizens outside the region without opting in for the program.

While presenting EU’s side of the argument, European Commission admitted that the Safe Harbor law cannot guarantee the privacy of European citizens when the data was being sent to America by the US tech companies. As a matter of fact, when questioned directly about the subject, EC representatives could not confirm that the current legislation was adequate to protect private data of EU citizens who use services and products developed by American tech companies.

During the hearing, Schrems said that even European companies who transfer data to United States should not be allowed to do so since the data transfer violates Safe Harbor legislation. He also added that since the legislation assumes that American data protection systems are adequate when the organizations transfer data on a self-certification basis, American companies do not qualify for protection under the said law. Schrems was supported by representatives from Poland and few other countries who argued that since the legislation violates Data Protection Directive, it cannot guarantee privacy for European citizens. However, the commission felt that the Safe Harbor legislation was necessary and should be reformed instead of being dropped altogether in order to address the challenges associated with the transfer of private data of European citizens.

June 9, 2015

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