Max Schrems has made quite a name for himself in the privacy world after (in)famously helping dismantle the largely inadequate EU-US Safe Harbor agreement. But this isn’t all – he is currently involved in a lengthy procedure against Facebook and the Irish Data Protection Commissioner for data transfers outside the EU. He alleges such transfers are illegal due to discoveries of mass surveillance programmes and the alleged participation of Facebook in PRISM, an example thereof.
Settling the Score
All this didn’t curb Schrems’ enthusiasm. Instead, he kicked into high gear and launched noyb, an NGO focusing on privacy violations by large companies. In his noyb concept paper, Schrems claims that despite obvious privacy violations, citizens are still disinclined to pursue legal action against the offending companies, which lets them get away scot-free.
Schrems pointed out that the reasons for this are simple: Individuals simply don’t have enough willpower, time nor financial resources to take on these behemoths. We believe Schrems himself is a case in point – he had to devote essentially his whole professional life to fighting large companies in court.
As quoted in ComputerWeekly, Schrems explained that “In the class action against Facebook, we claimed €500 in damages per person, but bringing an individual €500 claim before court in Austria would cost a couple of thousand.” Few individuals are willing to risk that much money and then perhaps recoup it only at a much later date.
Noyb aims to change that by suing these companies on behalf of the affected persons. The IAPP reports that Article 80 of the GDPR allows for bringing of ‘collective complaints’, which Schrems plans to utilise to the maximum extent possible. These complaints would bring together thousands of affected individuals, which should not be as difficult due to a wide user base of many high-profile privacy-infringing platforms and companies.
Schrems plans to gather €250,000 for his start-up to cover the office and staff costs. So far, he gathered a little over €200,000. The largest donators are The City Government of Vienna with €25,000 and StartPage pledging a further €20,000. Mozilla and another NGO, Epic, have committed to annual donations to cover operating costs. Anonymous donations are also gladly accepted, and you can help support the initiative here.
The idea is to get companies and interested parties to finance litigation and receive a portion of the winnings in return. The risk for litigants would thus be minimized, but it would also mean the NGO would have to carefully pick its battles.
A Limited Mandate
Schrems has repeatedly stressed that the point of noyb is not to advocate for policy changes or improve public awareness. It has a much more hands-on purpose that will focus primarily on litigation and legwork for persons who need help with defending their rights.
The organisation will operate in Vienna, Austria, as Schrems feels the jurisdiction is beneficial for privacy rights. Austrian laws also mandate full reimbursement of legal costs for won cases and its courts have a ‘track record of referring cases to the European Court of Justice’.
The goal of noyb, however, isn’t to be anti-tech or as a tool to extort large IT companies. Instead, the goal is to ensure all companies follow the same rule of law and to prevent honest companies from being left out in the cold and ran over by companies with a more cavalier attitude towards their customers’ privacy.
Noyb aims to support at least 10 external litigation cases by the end of 2018. We hope Schrems’ undertaking will be a successful one, just as his previous legal cases were.
You can find out more at noyb’s official website.
Title image by Anne Helmond, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.