John Naughton

The leading David at the moment is Max Schrems, the Austrian activist and founder of the most formidable data-privacy campaigning organisation outside of the US.  As a student, he launched the campaign that eventually led to the Court of Justice of the European Union ruling that the ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement negotiated between the EU and the US to regulate data transfer between Europe and the US was invalid.  NOYB was established as a European non-profit that works on strategic litigation to ensure that the GDPR is upheld. It started with a concept, a website and a crowdfunding tool and within two months acquired thousands of “supporters” that has allowed it to begin operations with basic funding at €250,000 per year.   A quick survey of its website suggests that it’s been very busy.  And Schrems’s dispute with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) about her failure to regulate Facebook’s handling of European users’ data has led to the Irish High Court ordering the  DPC to cover the costs of Schrems’s legal team in relation to the Court of Justice ruling on EU-US data transfers.

What’s interesting about this story is the way it challenges the “learned helplessness” that has characterised much of the public response to abuses of power by tech giants.  The right kind of strategic litigation, precisely targeted and properly researched can bring results.