Irish High court freezes probe into Facebook's EU-U.S. data flows

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s High Court on Monday temporarily froze a probe by Facebook’s lead European Union regulator that threatened to halt the U.S. social media giant’s transatlantic data flows, a court spokesman said.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook logo is seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Facebook had sought a judicial review of the Irish Data Protection Commission’s preliminary decision that the mechanism it used to transfer data from the European Union to the United States “cannot in practice be used.”

“Leave to take the Judicial Review was granted,” the court spokesman said.

“A stay was put on the Section 11 order,” he added, referring to the Data Protection Commission order that threatened to block the data flows. No date has yet been set for the matter to return to the court, he said.

A Facebook spokeswoman welcomed the court decision. “Businesses need clear, global rules, underpinned by the strong rule of law, to protect transatlantic data flows over the long term,” she said.

In seeking to derail the Irish regulator’s decision, Facebook has said the mechanism in question, the Standard Contractual Clause (SCC), had been deemed valid by the Court of Justice of the European Union in July.

However, the July ruling also said that under SCCs, privacy watchdogs must suspend or prohibit transfers outside the EU if data protection in other countries cannot be assured.

The transatlantic argument stems from EU concerns that the surveillance regime in the United States may not respect the privacy rights of EU citizens when their personal data is sent to the United States for commercial use.

Standard Contractual Clause are used by thousands of companies to transfer Europeans’ data around the world and a ban could cause widespread disruption to transatlantic data services.

Max Schrems, the data privacy activist who is a party in the case, said that Facebook had argued it needed more time to respond and that it would be unfair that the Irish regulator was only targeting Facebook and not other tech companies.

A Data Protection Commission spokesman declined to comment.

Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Toby Chopra and Carmel Crimmins