Irish privacy watchdog will move to probe Facebook

Ireland’s privacy commissioner plans to investigate whether Facebook's data practices make European users vulnerable to American surveillance.

The watchdog will examine whether Facebook’s practice of sending data related to Europeans to U.S. servers violated people's privacy, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The case is being closely followed, as it comes on the heels of a ruling from a European Union court that invalidated the Safe Harbor pact. That agreement had made it easier for American companies to legally store European customer data stateside.

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Critics contend that the practice exposes European users to sweeping surveillance from the U.S. government.

The Irish regulator overseeing the investigation said it would take place quickly, the BBC reported. Facebook told The Journal it would be cooperative in the case.

The probe is the first of its kind since Europe’s highest court invalidated the Safe Harbor pact, which had held that U.S. companies could legally “self-certify” that they were meeting European privacy standards while transporting data across the Atlantic. Europe has stricter standards governing personal data.

The ruling puts new pressure on representatives of E.U. governments who are mulling over how to create a new agreement that could take the place of the Safe Harbor agreement. Privacy watchdogs have said that they will not undertake major enforcement actions until January to give the parties time to negotiate.

The ruling on Safe Harbor came about when an Austrian privacy activist complained to the Irish regulator that his data was not safe in light of the National Security Agency problems revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Irish regulator said it couldn’t consider the case because of Safe Harbor — which set in motion the case that led to the pact being invalidated.