Australia’s privacy regulator today welcomed the Federal Court’s decision to dismiss Facebook’s attempt to prevent it from being served legal documents in a landmark case stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner is pursuing the social media giant for alleged serious and/or repeated interference with the privacy of hundreds of thousands of Australians when it failed to protect user data involved in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

UK and US watchdogs have already fined Facebook £500,000 and $US5 billion respectively over the incident.

In April the OAIC was granted leave to serve legal documents on US-based Facebook Inc. and Facebook Ireland. Facebook Inc. made an interlocutory application to set aside service on May 6th.

In a ruling released today, Justice Thawley dismissed Facebook’s application, but specific reasons for the judgement were not published immediately.  

In a statement, the privacy regulator today welcomed the decision.

“In the ruling released today, Justice Thawley was satisfied that the Commissioner had established a prima facie case that Facebook Inc. was carrying on business in Australia, and was collecting and holding personal information in Australia at the relevant time. While these matters remain to be established at trial, the Court held the matters were sufficiently arguable to justify service outside of Australia and subjecting Facebook Inc. to proceedings in Australia.”

Facebook says it is reviewing today’s decision.

“We are aware of the Court’s decision today and we are reviewing it carefully,” a Facebook company spokesperson told Which-50.

The case

In April 2018 Facebook admitted that the information of up to 87 million people — including 311,127 Australians — may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm which conducts political profiling and was hired by the Trump campaign in the 2016 US presidential election. 

Australia’s privacy regulator began investigating shortly after the admission, launching legal proceedings earlier this year, nearly two years after the formal investigation began.

The Australian privacy regulator is arguing Facebook breached Australia’s Privacy Principles because it disclosed users’ personal information for a purpose other than what had been agreed upon and had failed to take reasonable steps to protect those individuals’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure. 

Clarification: This article has been updated to better reflect the OAIC’s investigation timeline.

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