The decision on whether to ban Facebook data transfers to the US will be made by mid-May, according to the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) of Ireland, Helen Dixon. She also stated that artificial intelligence (AI) systems, such as ChatGPT, should be regulated, but cautioned against hasty prohibitions. Speaking at an event in Wicklow, Dixon revealed that the Facebook case, which is currently under EU dispute resolution, is “coming to a conclusion”. The case originated from a decision by the EU courts in 2020, following a complaint by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems. If enforced, it could lead to significant restrictions on Facebook, which is now owned by Meta. Dixon stated that the final decision will be made by her office before May 12th.
Dixon also commented on the need to accelerate the regulation of big tech firms, stating that she wants to “speed things up”. However, she defended Ireland’s role as the EU’s lead regulator, pointing out that many people fail to understand the time required to conduct a thorough investigation. “We all want things to speed up,” she said, “We want to be able to conduct and conclude matters faster. Some of the people that comment on speed understand very little about the process of conducting an investigation, the complexity of finding the facts, the implementation of fair procedures in the process. So these things do take time to do properly.”
Dixon, who will soon be stepping down from her position as the country’s data privacy watchdog, stated that she would advise her successor to communicate with fellow regulators across the EU to explain Ireland’s role. She also suggested that a broader communications campaign, taking into account the global remit of the office, would be necessary. “Recognition of the role of Ireland and the Irish DPC has being global in effect, global in reach, and having global stakeholders, would need to be embraced by my successor, I think. I started too late positioning permanent staff out in Brussels.”
Last year, the DPC completed 17 large-scale inquiries and issued fines in excess of €1bn, including a record €405m fine against Instagram for its processing of minors’ data. In January of this year, the commission fined Whatsapp Ireland €5.5m over a complaint made by a German citizen regarding data processing. Dixon stated that the body of case law being created through the Irish and EU courts on foot of EU law and the DPC’s decisions would make it easier to conclude investigations in future. “As fast as we hand out those enforcement measures, the issues are being contested in court. We’re going to see a lot of case law now arising from the enforcement actions the DPC has taken. We’re going to see some big judgments from the Irish High Court, perhaps references off to the Court of Justice of the EU, and we’re going get to a point of greater legal certainty.”
In conclusion, the decision on whether to ban Facebook data transfers to the US is due to be made by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner before May 12th. The Commissioner also discussed the need for regulation of AI systems and the importance of properly conducting investigations into big tech firms. She defended Ireland’s role as the EU’s lead regulator and called for a broader communication campaign to explain the global remit of the office. Dixon also stated that the body of case law being created would make it easier to conclude investigations in the future.