The closely followed case challenging the validity of Standard Contractual Clauses for the transfer of personal data outside the EEA to countries considered not to provide an adequate level of data protection, including the US, is progressing with a hearing coming up February 7th and schedule set for the proceedings, including amicus participation.

Background

On May 31, 2016, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (“DPC”) commenced proceedings in the Irish High Court, seeking a reference to the CJEU in relation to a complaint made by Max Schrems against Facebook Ireland Ltd’s use of an international data transfer mechanism known as “Standard Contractual Clauses” or “Model Contracts” (“SCCs”). SCCs are standard form data transfer agreements between a data exporter in the EU and a data importer outside of the EU which are entered into to provide an adequate level of protection to permit the transfer of personal data from the EU. The proceedings are titled Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook Ireland Limited & Maxmillian Schrems 2016/4809P.

The proceedings have several elements in common with the application (also in relation to a complaint made by Mr. Schrems) that led to the CJEU’s 2015 decision to invalidate the U.S. EU Safe Harbour Framework. Mr Schrems’ complaint is that Facebook Ireland Ltd’s use of SCCs for the transfer of personal data to its U.S. headquarters is an inadequate protection of his personal data under Article 8 and fails to provide sufficient remedy under Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The High Court fixed a date for the hearing on February 7, 2017 and the hearing is expected to run for approximately 3 weeks.

Timetable

On June 13, 2016, on the application of the DPC, the proceedings were admitted into the Commercial List of the Irish High Court. On July 19, 2016, the Court accepted four parties (the U.S. Government, BSA Business Software Alliance, Digital Europe and EPIC) to join proceedings as amicus curiae. On July 25, 2016, the proceedings came before the High Court for directions on how the case was to progress. Court directions were made concerning the exchange of pleadings, affidavits and legal submissions between the parties for a 5-month period which commenced on September 9, 2016.

The High Court fixed a date for the hearing on February 7, 2017 and the hearing is expected to run for approximately three weeks.

The Irish High Court has recently published a short expected timetable for the hearing:

  1. The hearing will commence with opening submissions from the DPC on February 7, 2017.
  2. Short opening statements will follow from Mr Schrems and Facebook, in that order.
  3. Cross-examination of Mr Schrems’ expert witness will be on February 10, 2017.
  4. This will be followed by cross-examination of the DPC’s expert witnesses, and those of Facebook.
  5. Each of the 4 amicus curiae (“friends of the court”) will then file legal submissions as to the issues in the case.
  6. The case will close with submissions to be made by each of the parties, in the following order: Mr Schrems; followed by Facebook, and then the DPC.
  7. The High Court will then determine whether it should make a referral to the CJEU in relation to the validity of the EU Commission decisions on SCCs.