Facebook questions use of 'right to be forgotten' ruling

European Union

Facebook has criticised European countries for using the “right to be forgotten” ruling on a Spanish case to challenge privacy regulation.

The May 2014 ruling, made by the European Court of Justice, set a precedent for removing outdated information from search results that are deemed to be no longer relevant or not in the public interest.

Countries across Europe have taken the ruling and applied it at a national level.

Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer, Stephen Deadman, said: “A number of authorities in Europe are using that judgment to challenge the status quo that’s existed for many years. We think they’re wrong. We think the model we have is right.”

One-stop-shop

Under the current system, companies can take a one-stop-shop approach where they deal with a single regulator within their base of operations within Europe.

Any measures or orders in that country then apply across the rest of Europe, allowing businesses to operate without consulting regulators in each country.

Facebook chose Ireland as its global base of operations, handling everything outside of North America from there. Facebook is therefore regulated by the Irish data protection commissioner.

However, countries including the Netherlands and Belgium have opened their own investigations into Facebook’s privacy practices, while the pan-European data protection authority working party, Article 29, has looked at privacy practices of Facebook and other US technology companies operating in Europe.

Disputes over accuracy

The Belgian data protection commission recently sued Facebook over what it sees as a disregard for Belgian citizens’ private lives in terms of the social network’s tracking of users for advertising.

Deadman said: “[Facebook] don’t agree that the Irish data protection authority isn’t doing its job. The academic report, which forms the foundation of [the Belgian privacy commission lawsuit], was not conducted by reviewing our practices, there was no interface with us, it was purely done without engagement with us or trying to find out the facts from Facebook.”

The authors of the report dispute Facebook’s claims, stating that they made multiple attempts to contact Facebook and clarify some parts of its operation, specifically around the use of tracking technologies.

Facebook, Google and other large US technology companies operating in Europe face an increasingly politically charged landscape. Europe’s 25-year-old data protection laws are being revised.

Reform needed

Part of the proposed plan, which is now under trialogue between the European Commission, the European parliament and the Council of the European Union, is to form a framework for pan-European data regulation with the possibility of forming a “super data regulator” for issues that cross borders and affect EU citizens of more than one country.

Deadman said: “Any structure that gives confidence to the way that national regulators are doing their jobs is good. If there can be a model to give the Article 29 working party more official status as a board, that would be a positive thing and reinforce and provide support to national data authorities as they’re doing their jobs.

“There should be order within Europe and a single regulator that regulates you, not multiple regulators all trying to regulate everything in their own different ways,” he said.

Encryption is staying

Facebook is not only bullish on data protection issues in Europe. It also stands at odds with British prime minister David Cameron and home secretary Teresa May’s plan to re-enact the Snooper’s charter and remove or weaken encryption.

Facebook’s director of security, Jennifer Henley, said: “To completely do away with encryption is not a stance we’re ready to make. We feel we have a very viable front door that allows governments and law enforcement agencies to come in and request information from us.”

Facebook’s line follows many other US technology companies and experts, including Google, which say weakening encryption is not an option.

Henley said: “We feel that weakening encryption produces a multitude of problems. Encryption really plays an important role in modern day security and it gives people additional confidence around their communications and how they can secure their data.”

Should Cameron force through his plans, it is unclear how Facebook would proceed. However, such a move would affect every technology company operating in the UK, and diminish user security.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Samuel Gibbs, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 7th July 2015 15.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010