The High Court - 2021 IEHC 287

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The High Court - 2021 IEHC 287
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Court: High Court (Ireland)
Jurisdiction: Ireland
Relevant Law: Article 6(1)(c) GDPR
Article 23 GDPR
Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
Decided: 19.05.2021
National Case Number/Name: 2021 IEHC 287
European Case Law Identifier: 2020 No. 1419 P
Appeal from:
Appeal to:
Original Language(s): English
Original Source: High Court Ireland (in English)
Initial Contributor: Tara Taubman-Bassirian

A school requested the disclosure of identities of Instagram account holders from Facebook. Facebook opposed by requesting a court order. In response to a request for such an order, the High Court judge stated his intention to make a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice pursuant to Article 267 of the TFEU, and invited parties to make submissions in respect of the necessity for same. The school authorities filed written submissions on 22 April 2021. Counsel for the school confirmed, at a directions hearing on 18 May 2021, that his side were content to rest on the written submissions and did not require a further oral hearing.

English Summary


An account on Instagram posted inappropriate, vulgar and sexual messages about staff at Salesian Secondary School in Limerick. For example, some messages ridiculed staff's personal appearance, weight, and sexuality. The photos accompanying the messages did not depict school staff but were sourced from the internet. The account also featured the school's address, crest, and name, and referred to its official website. The messages were deleted and the account taken down after the school's solicitor posted a request on the account. The school was also able to access the password via a student.

The board of management of the school brought an application in the Irish Court seeking an order that Facebook Ireland, who owns Instagram, to disclose all data it holds which evidences the identity of the person(s) behind the account, including name(s), address, contact details, and IP address.

The school authorities had previously contacted Facebook Ireland requesting information with a view to identifying the individuals. Facebook responded stating that they could not disclose user information to a private third party without a court order or request from law enforcement.


The High Court judge, Mr. Justice Garrett Simons, considered it necessary to refer a number of questions in the case to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling, pursuant to Article 267 of the TFEU. In particular:

  • Do the rights of privacy, data protection, and freedom of expression conferred under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU ('the Charter') imply a right, in principle, to post material anonymously on the internet (subject always to any countervailing objective of public interest)? If so, is this right qualified in the case of the students and staff of a secondary school?
  • What is the threshold to be met under the GDPR and/or the Charter before the provider of a social media platform can be compelled to disclose, to a third party, information which would identify an otherwise anonymous account user? Is it necessary for the third party seeking disclosure to establish a strong prima facie case of tortious wrongdoing and an intention to pursue legal proceedings? Alternatively, does the board of management of a secondary school have a sufficient interest in disciplining its students and staff for their online activities to entitle it to disclosure, even in the absence of an intention to pursue legal proceedings? If so, is it necessary to establish that the online activities are disruptive to the school environment?
  • Is there any necessity for a national court to attempt to put the affected party on notice of an application which seeks to identify the operators of an otherwise anonymous user account? Should, for example, the national court direct that the social media platform notify the party and inform them that they have an opportunity to make submissions anonymously to the court?


The application for a disclosure order presents significant legal issues in respect of privacy, data protection and freedom of expression, or whether an expectation of anonymity on the internet is an aspect of the right to the protection of personal data and the right to freedom of expression. It worth highlighting that the facts date back mid October 2019, while to court decision to refer to the ECJ has been made May 2021, one year and 7 months later. A suivre...

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English Machine Translation of the Decision

The decision below is a machine translation of the English original. Please refer to the English original for more details.