U.S. may extend some privacy rights to Europeans

The U.S. government has said it may extend certain privacy rights to European citizens to help them enjoy the same sort of data protections abroad as they do at home.

Attorney General Eric Holder said on Wednesday that the White House “would seek to work with Congress to enact legislation” that would let EU citizens seek redress in U.S. courts if their home countries’ authorities share their personal data with U.S. authorities, and if that data is then “intentionally or willfully disclosed.” U.S. citizens already get to do this in the U.S. under the Privacy Act, but people living outside the U.S. cannot.

In a statement welcoming the suggestion, EU justice chief Viviane Reding said this could remove a major stumbling block in data protection negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union. The European Commission, which is currently trying to navigate through the mess exposed by Edward Snowden last year, has long complained about the current state of affairs, particularly as Americans can sue in an E.U. court if they feel their personal data has been abused in Europe.

The potential U.S. move might prove particularly meaningful with regards to passenger name records that are sent to the U.S. — a European who finds themselves on a no-fly list as a result of this data-sharing has no right to redress at present.

Reding said:

“The U.S. administration is now announcing that it will take legislative action to fill the gap between the rights that U.S. citizens enjoy in the EU today and the rights EU citizens do not have in the U.S. – something which the Commission has been arguing for during the past three years. This is an important first step towards rebuilding trust in our transatlantic relations. Now the announcement should be swiftly translated into legislation so that further steps can be taken in the negotiation. Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step.”

This article was updated at 9am PT to include a link to Holder’s statement, and to make clear that this potential U.S. move only applies to data shared by the authorities under the terms of the agreement that’s being worked out, rather than data sent to U.S. web firms.