US Promises EU Citizens Stronger Data Privacy Rights

The Obama administration has committed to pass legislation granting European Union citizens some of the same privacy rights as Americans in U.S. courts, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

The U.S. has completed negotiations on an agreement that will grant EU citizens the right to seek reparation in U.S. courts if personal data their home countries share with the U.S. government for law enforcement purposes is willfully disclosed. Americans already enjoy this right under the Privacy Act.

“In a world of globalized crime and terrorism, we can protect our citizens only if we work together internationally, including through sharing law enforcement information with and by E.U. Member States and other close allies,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a release. “At the same time, we must ensure that we continue our long tradition of protecting privacy in the law enforcement context.”

Pressure for such a measure mounted in the wake of revelations of former government contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s far-reaching data-collection programs.

When information from the Snowden documents was first published by The Guardian and the Washington Post last June, the Obama administration responded to growing political pressure by reassuring the American public that U.S. citizens were legally protected from government spying. Many Europeans who are not protected by the U.S. Constitution were angered by the scope of the surveillance, the documents revealed.

Attorney general Eric Holder pledged legislation would be sent to Congress that would expand the U.S. Privacy Act to EU citizens at a US-EU meeting in Athens, according to The Guardian report.

Although EU, privacy groups and human rights groups have pushed for such measures in the past, The Guardian said they were skeptical about the news. And they’re right to be. Although Holder’s announcement could be viewed as a step in the right direction, it’s simply an announcement. Other nations should question a promise that undoubtedly controversial legislation will pass through one of the most polarized Congresses in recent history.

Negotiations over personal data protection between the U.S. and EU have been going on for several years now, but obviously became a more hot button issue in the wake of the Snowden leaks. The announcement occurred in the lead-up to the U.S.-Germany Cyber Bilateral Meeting in Berlin Thursday.

The most fallout in the EU from the NSA revelation occurred in Germany. Last October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to news that the NSA had been listening to her phone calls by saying that “spying on friends is simply unacceptable.” She told Obama as recently as May that it was too soon to “return to business as usual.”

According to a tip to Politico’s Morning Cybersecurity report, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reforms were expected to be central to the deliberations in Berlin Thursday. Cyber crime in Eastern Europe, defense against cyber sanctions from Russia and Chinese government hacking will also be on the table.