Carsten Reisinger / Shutterstock.com

EU Court Ruling: NSA Spying Violates Privacy Rights of Millions

By throwing out a key international agreement, the ruling delivers a blow to global tech companies.

The in­ter­na­tion­al fal­lout over Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks about U.S. sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions con­tin­ued Tues­day, as the top European court ruled that the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency is vi­ol­at­ing the pri­vacy rights of mil­lions of Europeans.

Al­though the de­cision by the European Court of Justice is likely to do little to ac­tu­ally curb NSA spy­ing, it could be­come a ma­jor head­ache for thou­sands of com­pan­ies on both sides of the At­lantic.

The court scrapped a “safe har­bor” agree­ment between the U.S. and E.U. that al­lowed com­pan­ies like Google, Face­book, and Amazon to freely store Europeans’ data on U.S. serv­ers. The court held that, be­cause of the NSA’s “mass and un­dif­fer­en­ti­ated” sur­veil­lance, the U.S. lacks the ad­equate pri­vacy pro­tec­tion re­quired by E.U. law.

“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,” the judges wrote. The Court of Justice is Europe’s highest court, and its opin­ion can­not be ap­pealed.

The rul­ing could em­power each E.U. na­tion’s in­di­vidu­al pri­vacy reg­u­lat­or to in­vest­ig­ate com­pany data prac­tices. Al­though tech com­pan­ies have been watch­ing the rul­ing es­pe­cially closely, it could also af­fect any busi­nesses that send cus­tom­er re­cords or hu­man re­sources in­form­a­tion to the United States. “It’s a sad day for European pri­vacy and a sad day for busi­nesses on both sides of the At­lantic,” said Bri­an Henges­baugh, a part­ner with the law firm Baker & McK­en­zie, who rep­res­ents busi­nesses in a vari­ety of in­dus­tries. “There will be a tre­mend­ous amount of up­heav­al.”

Com­pan­ies could avoid a reg­u­lat­ory crack­down by adding lan­guage to their user agree­ments or by set­ting up in­tern­al com­pany con­tracts. But com­pli­ance could be es­pe­cially be­wil­der­ing for small com­pan­ies that lack teams of law­yers to in­ter­pret the de­cision.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates, who have long ac­cused the U.S. of lag­ging be­hind Europe on pri­vacy pro­tec­tion, cel­eb­rated the rul­ing. “Safe Har­bor was de­signed to en­able U.S. data com­pan­ies to en­gage in per­vas­ive com­mer­cial sur­veil­lance in the EU,” said Jeff Chester, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for Di­git­al Demo­cracy, a U.S. pri­vacy group. “The end of the cur­rent Safe Har­bor re­gime will be a ma­jor glob­al vic­tory for pri­vacy.”

Com­pan­ies and the U.S. gov­ern­ment have been bra­cing for this de­cision since the court’s top ad­viser re­com­men­ded throw­ing out the data agree­ment two weeks ago. The U.S. gov­ern­ment wasn’t a party to the case, but of­fi­cials in re­cent days have claimed the law­suit was based on mis­per­cep­tions about the NSA’s pro­grams. “The United States does not and has not en­gaged in in­dis­crim­in­ate sur­veil­lance of any­one, in­clud­ing or­din­ary European cit­izens,” the U.S. Mis­sion to the European Uni­on said in a state­ment last week. The NSA’s In­ter­net sur­veil­lance pro­gram, the U.S. said, “is in fact tar­geted against par­tic­u­lar val­id for­eign in­tel­li­gence tar­gets, is duly au­thor­ized by law, and strictly com­plies with a num­ber of pub­licly dis­closed con­trols and lim­it­a­tions.”

Be­cause of the back­lash to the Snowden leaks, the U.S. and E.U. had already be­gun re-ne­go­ti­at­ing the de­tails of the safe har­bor frame­work. Tues­day’s rul­ing adds pres­sure to reach a new deal quickly, al­though talks have re­portedly been stalled over how much ac­cess U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies should have to European data.

The case was brought by Max Schrems, an Aus­tri­an gradu­ate stu­dent, who ac­cused Face­book of vi­ol­at­ing his rights by co­oper­at­ing with the NSA. “This de­cision is a ma­jor blow for U.S. glob­al sur­veil­lance that heav­ily re­lies on private part­ners,” Schrems said in a state­ment. “The judg­ment makes it clear that U.S. busi­nesses can­not simply aid U.S. es­pi­on­age ef­forts in vi­ol­a­tion of European fun­da­ment­al rights.”

Snowden tweeted his sup­port for Schrems Tues­day, say­ing the act­iv­ist had “changed the world for the bet­ter” and that the safe har­bor agree­mentwas “routinely ab­used for sur­veil­lance.” 

In a state­ment, Face­book em­phas­ized that it was only com­ply­ing with U.S. law. “This case is not about Face­book,” the In­ter­net gi­ant said. “It is im­per­at­ive that E.U. and U.S. gov­ern­ments en­sure that they con­tin­ue to provide re­li­able meth­ods for law­ful data trans­fers and re­solve any is­sues re­lat­ing to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.”

Carsten Reisinger / Shutterstock.com )

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.