Max Schrems, the Austrian law graduate spearheading a class action lawsuit against Facebook for alleged privacy breaches, said ahead oft he preliminary hearing in Vienna on Thursday said he hoped to send a message to US-based online companies who think “you can do anything you want in Europe.”
The 27-year-old accused the social networking site of taking a “Wild West” approach to data protection. Schrems and 25,000 other Facebook users are suing the website for a range of rights violations, from the “illegal” tracking of their data under EU law to Facebook’s involvement in the PRISM data collection program of the United States National Security Agency (NSA).
Schrems has brought the case against the company’s European headquarters in Dublin, which registers all account outside the United States and Canada – amounting to about 80 percent of Facebook’s 1.35 billion users. The case was filed in Vienna, as all EU countries are compelled to enforce court rulings from any other member state.
The judges will also rule on Facebook’s claim that the suit is inadmissible under Austrian law, an objection described by Schrems’ lawyer as without “any substance.”
The plaintiffs are asking for 500 euros ($540) each in damages – a symbolic amount, as per Schrems’ explanation, the case is not about getting rich, but rather “about the principle that fundamental rights have to be applied.”
The suit has garnered a huge amount of interest from all over the world. Within days of launching the case last August, Schrems was overwhelmed by the thousands of people from Europe, Asia, Latin American and Australia who wanted to take part. In the end, he limited the number to 25,000 participants, but a further 55,000 have already registered to join the proceedings at a later stage.
The case landed in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after the Irish authorities refused to open a probe into the alleged violations. The ECJ’s decision, which is expected in 2016, could have far-reaching implications for American tech companies operating in Europe.