European Court of Justice Declares EU/US Safe Harbour Decision Invalid

By Cameron Abbott and Melanie Long

The European Court of Justice has declared a decision by the European Commission on the legitimacy of the EU/US safe harbour scheme (safe harbour decision), invalid. In the wake of the Snowden scandal, Austrian citizen, Maximilian Schrems, lodged a complaint against Facebook with the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland (the location of Facebook’s European headquarters). The Irish supervisory authority rejected Mr Schrems’ complaint on the basis of the safe harbour decision. In invalidating the safe harbour decision, the European Court of Justice declared that “legislation permitting the public authorities to have access on a generalised basis to the content of electronic communications must be regarded as compromising the essence of the fundamental right to respect for private life.” Further, that the safe harbour scheme, by not providing for an individual to pursue legal remedies in order to have access to personal data relating to them, or to obtain the rectification or erasure of such data, compromised, “the essence of the fundamental right to effective judicial protection, the existence of such a possibility being inherent in the existence of the rule of law.”

The consequence of this decision is that the EU/US safe harbour scheme is contrary to the Data Protection Directive, which provides that the transfer of personal data to a third country may, in principle, take place only if that third country ensures an adequate level of protection of the data.

The European Court of Justice’s press release can be found here.

To read the full judgment of the European Court of Justice click here.

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