Facebook lawyers object to Belgian court order — because it contains English words

Social media giant’s legal team are concerned Belgians won’t understand terms such as “cookie” and “browser”

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Lawyers for Facebook are objecting to a Belgian court order demanding that the social media site stops tracking users without their consent, because it uses English words such as “cookie” and “browser”.

Lawyers love a loophole, but even Legal Cheek is impressed by this latest search for an escape route courtesy of the top legal minds at Facebook.

The cheeky move is just the latest instalment in an ongoing legal battle between Facebook and the Belgian privacy commission.

The Belgian watchdog believes the popular social media platform has a complete disregard for its local and European privacy laws. It’s taken the fight to Zuckerberg and co through its local courts — successfully, too.

Facebook was ordered in November 2015 by a Belgium court to stop tracking the internet habits of those who did not have accounts on the social media site.

Facing hefty fines of up to €250,000 (£190,000) a day if it failed to comply with the order within 24 hours, the lawyers at Facebook had to get busy. It is not known if they used Facebook to ask for help from Flemish legal scholars, but they have come up with an ancient Belgian law.

And what a handy law it is, too. Facebook now cites a historic Belgian law to the effect that court orders must be drafted in either Dutch, French or German. If they’re not — well, they’re no good, are they?

With the court order including English words such “cookie” — online data held by websites — and “browser” — the system in which internet users surf the net, Facebook’s legal team says it falls foul of the ancient, very helpful law — and should be annulled.

Dirk Lindemans — a public and administrative law specialist who is representing Facebook in Belgium — told local newspaper newspaper De Tijd:

It is a requirement that justice can be understood by everyone. Otherwise you get a slippery slope towards class-biased justice.

With the word “cookie” being the same in, er, just about every language, let alone Dutch, French and German and only slight interpretational differences over the term “browser”, perhaps Lindemans needs to give the people of Belgium a little more credit.

But with Facebook throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at the Belgian courts, the social site is clearly keen not to have another Max Schrems incident.

Back in October last year, Schrems — who was studying for a PhD in law at Vienna University at the time — took Facebook and its lawyers all the way to European Court of Justice, and won.

With the ECJ ruling that US companies — including Facebook — could no longer rely on the “Safe Harbour” agreement to access the online information of millions of EU citizens, Schrems not only changed the face of global data privacy law, but bagged some money can’t buy CV gold in the process.

So impressive was the law student’s achievements, that former Central Intelligence Agency employee turned whistleblower Edward Snowden took to Twitter to congratulate Schrems.

Now there’s glowing reference if there ever was one.

2 Comments

Dr Samuel Johnson

I still do not understand why my picture is being used in legal articles!

Yes it is true that I used to live just off Fleet Street, a stone’s throw from the Inns of Court and down the road from the RCJ (except of course the RCJ were not built until a century after my death). I wonder whether you are mistaking me for my acquaintance James Boswell?

I remain baffled as I had next to no involvement with the law! The closest encounter I ever had to the judiciary was being appointed to a commission to determine the legitimacy of the Cock Lane ghost in February 1762. I rightly concluded that it was a fraud (and the jury, directed by Lord Chief Justice William Murray, agreed with my view in July of that year upon trial of the issue at the Guild Hall).

That being said, I am aware of “cookies” (Dutch biscuits such as these were frequently served in the ante-room of Lord Chesterfield in the 1700s) but the term did not make its way into my Dictionary of the English language, owing to its foreign origin. As I understand it, being a Dutch (and not English) word, it therefore fits perfectly in the Belgian Court’s judgment.

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