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US will weigh in on Facebook case over cross-border data transfers

The US government will provide information to an Irish court in a case that questions the legality of transferring Facebook data from Europe to the US.

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Austrian activist Max Schrems displays a logo of social platform Facebook with his smartphone.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

An Irish court on Tuesday allowed the US government to join a case on cross-border data transfers that examines the role Facebook plays in cooperating with US mass surveillance programs.

The case involves a complaint against Facebook over how it handles the transfer of data on European citizens to the US from the social network titan's European headquarters, which are located in Dublin. EU law allows for such data transfers if Facebook can guarantee the information is protected from mass surveillance programs.

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case was brought by Max Schrems, an Austrian law student and privacy activist, who questioned whether Facebook data was protected properly. Schrems began looking into the data transfers following NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations of the agency's surveillance activities.

"The United States has a significant and bona fide interest in the outcome of these proceedings," said Justice Brian McGovern, the Irish judge who made the call to add the US to the list of amicus curiae. He added that the imposition of restrictions on the transfer of such data could affect US companies significantly.

Irish data protection authorities have requested the case be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU's highest court. By participating in the Irish proceedings, the US will potentially be able to provide its own perspective on how data is handled when it enters its borders.

"The fact that the US government intervenes in this lawsuit, shows that we hit them from a relevant angle," Schrems said in a statement. "The US can largely ignore the political critique on US mass surveillance, but it cannot ignore the economic relevance of EU-US data flows."