EC attorney Bernhard Schima made that comment in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems. The case examines whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in light of mass data tracking revealed by National Security Administration whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one,” Schima told attorney general Yves Bot in a hearing of the case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.
At issue is the current Safe Harbour framework, which covers the transmission of EU citizens’ data across the Atlantic to the US. Without the framework, it is against EU law to transmit private data outside of the EU. The case collects complaints lodged against Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Microsoft-owned Skype and Yahoo.
Safe Harbour states that US data protection rules are adequate if information is passed by companies on a “self-certify” basis. But Schrems maintains that the US no longer qualifies for such a status due to its tracking programs, so companies operating inside the EU should not be allowed to transfer data to the US.
When asked directly, the commission could not confirm that the Safe Harbour rules, as they currently stand, provide adequate protection of EU citizens’ data.
The case argues that the US government’s Prism data collection program, revealed by Snowden in leaked NSA files, in which which EU citizens’ data held by US companies is passed on to US intelligence agencies, breaches the EU’s Data Protection Directive “adequacy” standard for privacy protection, meaning that the Safe Harbour framework no longer applies.
Poland and a few other member states as well as advocacy group Digital Rights Ireland joined Schrems in arguing that the Safe Harbour framework cannot ensure the protection of EU citizens’ data and therefore is in violation of the two articles of the Data Protection Directive.
The commission, however, argued that Safe Harbour is necessary both politically and economically and that it is still a work in progress.