A new court ruling from the European Court of Justice deems invalid a legal framework that has untul now been used to justify the free transfer of data between the European Union and the U.S..

Known as the Safe Harbour agreement, the law has in the past allowed organizations based in the U.S. to pull private data from servers in Europe across the Atlantic. But a privacy activist called Max Schrem has challenged Facebook in the European Court of Justice, where he received backing from its Advocate General who thought that the Safe Harbor arrangement was potentially dangerous. In a statement issued by the Court of Justice, it explained:

“Legislation permitting the public authorities to have access on a generalized basis to the content of electronic communications must be regarded as compromising the essence of the fundamental right to respect for private life.”

As Engadget points out, the ruling effectively renders data sharing agreements invalid, and leaves regulators in each country with the power to decide what happens to data stored on their shores. It’s unclear exactly what that might mean for the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but it does seem possible that authorities could prevent the flow of data, especially if European privacy standards aren’t being adhered to.

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The ruling is thought to affect a total of 4,000 European and American companies.

[European Court of Justice via Engadget]

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