U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Obama administration is seeking to extend privacy guarantees to EU citizens which are now only available to U.S. citizens, which some European politicians see as an important step towards an “umbrella agreement” guaranteeing data protection.
Currently, Europeans worried their their data privacy rights have been violated by U.S. companies have no official body to hear their complaints. Meanwhile, anyone, regardless of nationality, can go to a European court to complain about EU data privacy violations.
Holder said he would seek to work with Congress to enact legislation that would allow E.U. citizens to seek redress in U.S. courts if personal data shared with U.S. authorities by their home countries for law enforcement purposes.
Holder made the announcement at a meeting in Athens, Greece, where the E.U.-U.S. Data Protection and Privacy Agreement (DPPA) is in its final stages of negotiations. DPPA is designed to provide privacy protection to all individuals, and facilitate the exchange of data needed to fight crime and terrorism.
Holder said, “In support of our desire to bring the DPPA negotiations to conclusion, the Obama Administration is committed to seeking legislation that would ensure that, with regard to personal information transferred within the scope of our proposed DPPA Regarding Police and Judicial Cooperation, EU citizens would have the same right to seek judicial redress for intentional or willful disclosures of protected information, and for refusal to grant access or to rectify any errors in that information, as would a U.S. citizen under the Privacy Act.”
This development has been well received by European Commission VP Viviane Reding, who said this is a major step towards extending privacy rights towards EU citizens, which is something the EU has been pursuing for the past three years, and will help rebuild transatlantic trust damaged when Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA’s mass global surveillance.
“Now the announcement should be swiftly translated into legislation so that further steps can be taken in the negotiation,” Reding said. “Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step.”
After Snowden’s revelations, US tech companies have been viewed by considerable suspicion internationally because they could be called upon by US authorities to provide data hosted on behalf of their customers.
In recent months, the US government has been trying to restore trust in online communications. Last week, for instance, the US House of Representatives in favor of a proposal that would essentially block government authorities from conducting warrantless searches on the data of US citizens, and stop the CIA and NSA from creating hardware and software backdoors for spying.