Belgium will drag Facebook to court if it has to – privacy minister

Report claims social network in breach of privacy laws

Belgium’s privacy tsar says he is ready to hand the Facebook case to prosecutors if consultations with the social network over alleged EU law breaches fail.

This follows a report detailing several instances where Mark Zuckerberg's firm is alleged to have broken EU laws.

Before snapping on the rubber gloves for an in-depth probe, the Belgian Privacy Commission commissioned the report from the University of Leuven (KUL) and the University of Brussels (VUB).

That study, published last week (PDF, 61 pages), concludes that Facebook’s latest privacy policy – updated at the beginning of the year – breaches European privacy laws.

Belgian privacy minister, Bart Tommelein, told local reporters that he is not an enemy of social networks, and he understood that Facebook was willing to comply with Belgian and EU privacy rules, but said Belgium must be prepared to take the lead in tackling violations of the right to privacy. He told paper Het Laaste Niuews: "There will be a solution. If it does not come about through discussions, then [it will go] via the legal route [through the courts]" [translated from Dutch].

The KUL-VUB report claims that Facebook's privacy policy update in January had only expanded older policy and practices, and found that it still violates European consumer protection law as well as being in breach of the Belgian Data Protection Act.

European data protection watchdogs had already warned Facebook its privacy policy could be against EU laws. Of particular concern is Facebook’s collection of information from third-party sites, which includes information gleaned from the “Like” button as well as the possible use of personal data to target advertising.

The bragsite is already under investigation by the Dutch data protection authority, College Bescherming Persoonsgegevens.

A pan-EU probe is already under way, with the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany all working together as part of a so-called Article 29 taskforce.

The Belgian Privacy Commission will now launch its own investigation based on the KUL-VUB report. If Facebook still refuses to change its policy, the commission will refer the case to prosecutors who can drag Zuck and Co into court. However, a commission spokeswoman said they would prefer to resolve the issue before it gets to that stage.

Facebook representatives have already met Tommelein in an effort to avoid punishment. ®

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