Hearing against the Privacy Shield before the General Court of the EU!

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The United States’ surveillance regime will be re-examined by European judges. After 3 years of proceedings, the hearing in our case against the “Privacy Shield” has finally been set to the 1st and 2nd of July. A look back on a 3-year battle.

In 2000, the European Commission authorised an agreement to simplify the transfer of Europeans’ personal data to the USA, the “Safe Harbor”.

On 6 October 2015, following a recourse by Max Schrems, the European Court of Justice invalidated this authorisation (see our reaction – in French). Why? Because the Safe Harbor allowed US intelligence services to access private data of Europeans and Edward Snowden had recently revealed the massive attack on our freedoms this led to.

On 12 July 2016, the European Commission gave it another shot: it authorised a new agreement on the transfer of data to the United States, the “Privacy Shield” (see our reaction, in French).

On 17 November 2016, we attacked this new agreement before the General Court of the EU, with FFDN and FDN (see our joint complaint, in French). Although less vague than the Safe Harbor, this new Privacy Shield still allowed abuses by the US, such as mass surveillance – which even the Commission has recognised it. Invalidating this agreement would be a way to strengthen European jurisprudence against mass surveillance, which we could then use against abuses in national laws, especially current French law.

The General Court of the EU has deemed our complaint serious and grave enough to open proceedings. The European Commission has had to defend its text, and many countries came to its rescue (at the forefront of which were the United States and France, but also Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands or the Czech Republic), as did multiple companies (Microsoft and Digitaleurope, which represents all the GAFAM), each of them producing arguments, which we then had to answer (see our response to the Commission followed by the one to its allies).

On our side, the French consumer protection organisation UFC Que Choisir intervened to support us and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) greatly helped us to provide a detailed description of the US surveillance regime.

These multiple exchanges of writing ended on 10 April 2019, when we answered a series of questions asked by the Court to help it make its decision. After almost 3 years of proceedings, the day of the hearing has finally come! It will be on the 1st and 2nd of July, in Luxembourg, where we will get the opportunity to orally defend our arguments against the likely fourty or so lawyers representing our many and powerful opponents.

It will without any doubt be the most important hearing La Quadrature du Net will have ever participated in. A victory would have massive consequences, both on our exposure to American mass surveillance and on national laws in each Member State in the European Union. We will go get it!