Data Protection Commission clocks up nearly €3m in legal bills over EU-US data transfer case

The case last year went to the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ) in Strasbourg which examined the validity or otherwise of European Commission decisions approving EU-US data transfer channels used by Facebook and others.
Data Protection Commission clocks up nearly €3m in legal bills over EU-US data transfer case
Last December, a non-binding opinion by a high level adviser to the ECJ found that personal data transfers from tech companies in the EU into the US are “valid”. Max Schrems is pictured.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) has run up a legal bill of over €2.9m as a result of the long-running Max Schrems’ data case.

In May 2016, Commissioner, Helen Dixon commenced the legal action that has involved a six-week hearing at the High Court in Dublin.

The case last year went to the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ) in Strasbourg which examined the validity or otherwise of European Commission decisions approving EU-US data transfer channels used by Facebook and others.

Last December, a non-binding opinion by a high level adviser to the ECJ found that personal data transfers from tech companies in the EU into the US are “valid”.

Commissioner Dixon sought referral after reaching a draft view that Austrian lawyer and privacy activist. Max Schrems had raised “well-founded” objections over the transfer of his personal data to the US.

Now, figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request show that the case has been a boon for lawyers and experts involved in the case and has cost the DPC €2.9m in the past four years.

Last year, the case cost the DPC €359,719 in legal costs and this followed a legal spend of €630,672 in 2018; €1.33m in 2017 and €588,138 in 2016.

Dublin legal firm, Philip Lee solicitors has received €1.9 million in relation to the Schema case.

However a breakdown of the figures show that a substantial portion of the fees paid to the legal firm were third party costs for onward disbursement in respect of costs awarded against the DPC in respect of the Schrems proceedings.

Last year, Philip Lee solicitors received €97,206 in respect of the case and this followed €529,289 paid to the firm in 2018; €808,865 in 2017 and €478,860 in 2016 with those amounts including third party costs.

Barristers, Michael Collins SC and Brian Murray SC have led the State legal team in the long running case and between 2016 and the end of 2019 Mr Murray was paid €401,497 and Mr Collins received €362,819.

In addition, Catherine Donnelly BL received €296,788 in counsel fees.

The DPC has spent €4.6 million on all legal costs over the past four years.

New figures provided by the DPC show that last year its legal bill totalled €991,033 and this represented a minor decrease on the €1.08m paid out in legal fees in 2018.

The Commission’s legal spend in 2017 amounted to €1.6m and €909,022 in 2016.

As a number of social media giants and tech companies have headquarters here, the DPC has become involved in high profile court cases concerning data protection that may have far reaching implications far beyond these shores.

Currently, the DPC has currently 23 "big tech" inquiries open and last Friday announced significant developments in a number of these inquiries, including three that were initiated after complaints received from Max Schrems's non-profit organisation NOYB.

One of the complaint-based inquiries, which focuses on Facebook Ireland's obligations to establish a lawful basis for personal data processing, has now moved to the decision-making phase.

Earlier this week, Mr Schrems called on the European authorities to push the DPC to speed up its handling of cases he has brought against Facebook.

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