Fallout of data protection ruling for commissioner ‘uncertain’

Ireland’s Data Protection Minister said it is too early to tell if a landmark European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision will require a further increase in the resources for the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC).
Fallout of data protection ruling for commissioner ‘uncertain’

Minister of state Dara Murphy made the comments after a judgment by the ECJ that a system known as Safe Harbour that enabled the transfer of data from the EU to the US is to be disregarded in light of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the US surveillance of citizen’s information.

In practical terms, the ECJ ruling means that the head of the DPC, Helen Dixon, may have to investigate more complaints the watchdog receives regarding the transfer of personal information instead of referring to the Safe Harbour agreement.

A number of US multinationals, including Facebook, have based their headquarters in Ireland, meaning that the responsibility to ensure they are meeting their privacy obligations for EU citizens is under the remit of the Irish data protection commissioner.

“Last year, we doubled resources to the Data Protection Commissioner,” Mr Murphy said.

“We’re in the process of opening a new office in Dublin, with significant increases in staffing and we have had discussions with her this year about requirements she will need for 2015.”

Mr Murphy said he did not believe yesterday’s ruling necessarily means a greater increase of resources than already planned is needed.

“I think it is too early to say that,” he said.

The ECJ judgment came after Austrian campaigner Max Schrems brought a case against the DPC to the High Court in Dublin.

Mr Schrems had argued that the DPC was wrong to decline his request to ensure that Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin is adequately protecting its users’ data.

The DPC had argued that as Facebook had signed up for the Safe Harbour agreement, there was no need for an investigation. The High Court referred the matter to the ECJ.

The ECJ yesterday judged that Data Protection authorities across European nations are “bound to disregard” Safe Harbour because its provisions are not compatible with the fundamental rights of EU citizens.

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