Facebook Wins Belgian Court Case Over Storing Non-User Data

  • Belgian courts can’t rule on Facebook’s Ireland-based unit
  • Ruling overturns privacy commission order to stop storing data

Facebook Inc. won an appeal overturning a Belgian privacy ruling that prompted the social network to block people without an account from accessing its site within the country.

The Brussels Court of Appeal said the nation’s data protection authority couldn’t prevent Facebook from storing data from non-users in a fight over measures the technology giant says help it combat hacking attacks.

“Belgian courts don’t have international jurisdiction over Facebook Ireland, where the data concerning Europe is processed,” the Brussels court of appeal said in a ruling Wednesday, referring to the company’s European headquarters. The court also said there was no urgency to rule on the case since Belgian court proceedings only started in mid-2015 over behavior that started in 2012.

Facebook appealed a 2015 ruling that ordered it to stop storing data from people who don’t have an account with the social network, or face a 250,000 euro ($277,800) daily fine. Willem Debeuckelaere, president of the Belgian data protection commission, said last year that Facebook’s “disrespectful” treatment of users’ personal data, without their knowledge, “needs tackling.”

The Brussels appeals court on Wednesday annulled that ruling. The nation’s data protection regulator said in a statement it would now focus fully on a separate case that focuses on Facebook’s use of cookies for users and non-users alike.

“It’s obvious that we will study whether we will” appeal, Debeuckelaere said in the statement. “This decision simply means that Belgian citizens cannot get protection of their privacy from courts and tribunals as far as foreign” companies are concerned and “remain exposed to massive violations of their privacy.”

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Facebook said it can now start showing its pages to Belgians who aren’t signed up to its service.

"We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to bringing all our services back online for people in Belgium," the company said in a statement.

In a court hearing this month, Facebook’s lawyers accused the Belgian privacy regulator of waging a “public vendetta” against the company.

The fight for Facebook is one over guaranteeing the security of its users, lawyers said. The Belgian regulator took issue with non-Facebook users whose data was accessed without consent. At the heart of the case is a so-called Datr cookie, which Facebook said it uses to protect its platform and the data of its users against “malicious attacks.”

Facebook’s lawyers told the court June 1 that the order forced it to take the “drastic security measure” of blocking non-Facebook users in Belgium from surfing the company’s public pages. This was “the only feasible” measure to comply with the ruling without compromising security, they said.

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