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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

European Privacy Case Disturbs West Coast Tech Giants

A few years ago, a law student from Austria was seeking a topic for a paper when he came upon the little known area of personal data protection and the stringent privacy laws of the European Union. The student, Max Schrems, wondered whether the Big Data giants like Facebook and Google were obeying the privacy laws of the EU with regard to his personal information.

Schrems filed a case in the European Court of Justice and then another in Ireland, the country where Facebook is headquartered.

It turns out, a "safe harbor" existed that allowed the data companies to pretty much do as they wished with European's personal data. That is, until Schrems' case resulted in a victory for the Continental little guy.

Last week, the European Court of Justice ruled in Schrems' favor, invalidating the "safe harbor" under which American tech companies handled the personal data for European consumers. The case has now grabbed the attention of the tech giants, and of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, as it now has significant implications for the digital economy.

All of this points to the difference between the U.S. definition of privacy, especially the Silicon Valley definition of that term, and the European definition of privacy. In Europe, privacy is a fundamental right akin to the right to free speech; in the Valley, the notion is that once people log on to the Internet, it's "game on", and privacy goes out the window.

As we have become accustomed here in the States, Big Data companies, right or wrong, record every key stroke, transmitting consumers' most intimately personal data to companies on the sell. Where it comes to Trans-Atlantic data mining, however, the European laws -even if until now ignored- are far more stringent.

In Europe, the concept of privacy as a right has two components: first, the respect for private and family life is enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; and second, everyone in Europe has a right to the protection of personal data. This vital right to privacy has taken the form of robust government regulatory agencies that have just received a shot in the arm form the Court of Justice's decision in the Schrems case.

For their part, Big Data firms must now tussle with some of these old-school, old-world bureaucrats to see which way they will go on this issue. Apparently, the transfer of personal data across the Atlantic is big big business. Who knew.

We here at the Law Blogger find the case interesting to the extent that it points out the vast differences in privacy, as a right, between Europe and the West Coast.

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info@clarkstonlegal.com

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