Facebook said it might stop operating in Europe if the EU suspends all data transfers to the US

insider@insider.com (Isobel Asher Hamilton)
·3 min read
facebook ceo mark zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Facebook said it may stop operating its core app and Instagram in Europe if it's forced to suspend transfers of European Union data back to the US.

  • In a court filing on the decision, Facebook said it had 410 million monthly active users in Europe.

  • Facebook's legal fight with Ireland's Data Protection Commission stems from a preliminary order the commission issued earlier this month questioning the validity of the mechanism Facebook uses to send data back to the US.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Facebook said it may stop operating its core app and Instagram in Europe thanks to new regulations affecting how it transfers data from the European Union to the US.

The company filed an affidavit to Ireland's high court on September 10. Ireland's Business Post was the first to report on the document on Sunday.

In the affidavit, Facebook challenged a preliminary order issued earlier this month by Ireland's data privacy watchdog, the Data Protection Commission, threatening to block Facebook from transferring EU data back to the US over privacy concerns.

"In the event that the Applicant were subject to a complete suspension of the transfer of users' data to the US, as appears to be what the DPC proposes, it is not clear to the Applicant how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU," wrote Yvonne Cunnane, Facebook Ireland's head of data protection and associate general counsel, adding that Facebook had 410 million monthly active users in Europe.

A Facebook spokesman denied that this constituted a threat to withdraw from the EU.

"Facebook is not threatening to withdraw from Europe. Legal documents filed with the Irish High Court set out the simple reality that Facebook, and many other businesses, organizations, and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate their services," the spokesman said in a statement.

"A lack of safe, secure, and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU, just as we seek a recovery from COVID-19," he added.

Vice News, which obtained Facebook's full affidavit, reported that the tech giant also complained that it was being treated unfairly, as no other US tech companies had been similarly targeted by the DPC.

The DPC's preliminary order questioned the validity of the system Facebook uses to send data back to the US, called standard contractual clauses.

In July, SCCs overall were deemed valid as a cross-country data-transfer mechanism, after the EU dismantled a long-standing EU-US data-transfer agreement called Privacy Shield. However, to qualify for SCCs, countries have to demonstrate a sufficiently high level of data privacy, and the concern is that US data surveillance is too invasive to match up with the EU's high standards.

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