By Eric Auchard
VIENNA (Reuters) - An attempt by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems to have a data protection case against Facebook <FB.O> heard as a class action suit moved a step ahead on Monday when Austria's Supreme Court referred the question to the European Court of Justice (CJEU).
Facebook has questioned the right of Schrems, famous for winning a case that overturned the Safe Harbour system used by thousands of companies to transfer data from the European Union to the United States, to bring a Europe-wide class action on behalf of tens of thousands of consumers..
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Schrems is claiming 500 euros ($562) in damages for each of more than 25,000 signatories to his lawsuit, one of a series of European challenges to U.S. technology firms and their handling of personal data.
He challenged the Safe Harbour data exchange system with the United States on privacy grounds, resulting in a new commercial data pact between the EU and the United States taking effect in July.
"The Court of Justice (has been) rather consumer friendly when it decided over jurisdictions," Schrems said in an emailed statement.
"I hope that we will see a similar decision in this case. Filing thousands of individual lawsuits before thousands of courts would be an absurd exercise."
Facebook responded in a statement: "Mr. Schrems’s claims have twice been rejected on the grounds that they cannot proceed as 'class action' on behalf of other consumers in Austrian courts."
"We look forward to addressing the procedural questions presented to the CJEU to resolve these claims."
($1 = 0.8901 euros)
(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla and Eric Auchard; Editing by Hugh Lawson)