Social media giant Facebook has found itself between a rock and a hard place. The firm is facing a lawsuit in Austria that alleges Facebook allowed U.S. intelligence officials access to private data about EU citizens. Of course, Facebook did not want to do this, but the firm’s management obviously deemed the legal and political consequences of not cooperating with the NSA outweighed the potential liability of violating EU rules to allow the NSA to access to private data.

Facebook Facing Lawsuit For Privacy Violations

The lawsuit the social media firm currently faces will test the decision made by Facebook execs, as the company faces hefty fines if the court decides in favor of the plaintiffs.

More on Facebook privacy lawsuit in Austria

A type of class action data lawsuit is being brought against Facebook in Europe (for cooperating with the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program and other alleged data protection violations), and the case is having its court hearing Thursday in Vienna’s Regional Court.

Vienna’s Commercial Court was the original venue for the lawsuit, but that court referred it to the regional court.

The suit moved forward by privacy campaigner and attorney Max Schrems, who has been fighting Facebook on data protection for a long time, forcing the social network to propose a global user vote on privacy policy changes Facebook wanted to make in 2012.

Europe vs Facebook is Shrems nonprofit organization. His latest legal initiative kicked off last August with an invitation for participants to join in the lawsuit. The initiative attracted 25,000 sign ups, with another 50,000 also registering to assign their claims if the suit can include greater numbers in the future.

Of note, legal costs are being paid by Austrian law firm Roland ProzessFinanz AG, which will be awarded 20% of any winnings, should the plaintiffs win the case. Legal analysts note that the damages were intentionally made intentionally low at just €500 per user. Schrems is the primary plaintiff, but has specified he will waive his damages should the action prevail.

Allegations against Facebook

Shrems and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that Facebook violated EU law by:

  • Having a data use policy that is invalid under EU law
  • The absence of effective consent to many types of data use
  • Support of the NSA’s ‘PRISM’ surveillance program
  • Tracking of Internet users on external websites  (through Like buttons, for example)
  • Monitoring and analysis of users through ‘big data’ systems
  • Unlawful introduction of ‘Graph Search’
  • Unauthorized passing on of user data to external applications.