Monday, January 16, 2023

Michael McAleer

The Irish arm of IT giant Meta has gone to court over a decision by the Data Protection Commission to fine it €405 million.

It has claimed before the High Court that the decision to impose a total fine of €405 million for breaching the privacy rights of teenagers is unconstitutional.

The fine was issued last September by the DPC following an investigation it conducted into GDPR breaches.

In judicial proceedings aimed at overturning the fine, Meta Platforms Ireland Ltd claims that certain sections of the 2018 Data Protection Act, the legislation which established the DPC, are unconstitutional.

Meta claims that the large fine imposed on it amounts to a criminal sanction and the administration of judicial powers by the DPC.

The DPC is not entitled to act in this manner Meta claims.

Rights to fair hearing

It also claims that the decision against it allegedly breaches both the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, including the rights to a fair hearing.

The applicant, formerly known as Facebook Ireland, is a subsidiary of the US based Meta Platforms, which owns the platforms Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

The Irish company is the controller and service provider for Meta’s platforms in the European region.

The case arises following the DPC inquiry into Meta’s historic processing of the data of Instagram users between the ages of 13 and 17 years between May 2018 and September 2020.

The probe concerned the automatic publication of teenage Instagram user’s mobile phone numbers and email addresses under default settings on the app’s “business account” service.

This default setting has since been changed by Instagram.

The inquiry also concerned the processing of business contact information for all users, including teens, who chose to switch their Instagram accounts to business accounts.

The DPC is the lead supervisory authority regarding cross border processing activities carried out by Meta.

Data protection

Meta claims that the DPC’s decision is unlawful, disproportionate, and impaired by errors of law.

It also submits that the DPC took irrelevant decisions into account when arriving at its decision, and were made in breach of fair procedures and rights to a fair hearing.

There was also a failure by the DPC to give adequate reasons for its decision, it is further submitted.

The DPC also erred in arriving at the total amount of the fines imposed.

It had wrongfully taken Meta’s global turnover into account.

Meta claims that its turnover has not been identified as a relevant factor when such fines are being calculated.

Declarations

In its action against the DPC, Ireland and the Attorney General Meta seeks an order quashing the decision of September 2nd last to issue 10 administrative fines totalling €405 million against the company.

It also seeks several declarations including that sections of the 2018 Data Protection Act are invalid and contrary to the Irish Constitution, the ECHR, and that the decision was arrived at in breach of various articles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights Meta further seeks to have certain aspects of this action referred to Court of Justice of the European Union for a preliminary ruling.

The matter came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Monday.

The judge, on an ex-parte basis, granted Meta permission to bring its action.

The matter was adjourned to a date in February.

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