Tech Firms Support Bill Expanding Privacy Rights To Non-U.S. Citizens

American tech firms are lining up behind a House bill that would allow non-U.S. citizens to seek records U.S. agencies have collected and pursue legal action when such records are disclosed.

The proposed legislation, known as the Judicial Redress Act, would extend the same rights Americans enjoy under the Privacy Act of 1974 to foreign citizens in select allied nations, primarily in the European Union. The law gives American citizens and permanent residents an avenue to seek their records, correct mistakes in those files and seek redress if an agency misuses their personal information.

The tech community’s support of bill marks the sector’s latest effort to rebuild trust abroad in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, which revealed many companies were turning over customers’ communications to the U.S. government.

“That degradation of trust has translated into significant negative commercial consequences for U.S. firms, with global consumers choosing technology solutions from other providers,” wrote a group of tech industry groups, including BSA Software Alliance and the Consumer Electronics Association. “Additionally, the revelations have led a number of foreign governments to consider proposals that would impede the borderless nature of the internet – the very characteristic that has permitted the Internet to thrive.”

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook have all voiced support for the legislation. Under the terms of the bill, only citizens’ countries who extend similar rights to Americans to seek legal redress for privacy violations will be eligible.

A Google policy analyst said current privacy and surveillance laws are outdated in a world where communications occur globally over the Internet. The analyst said passage of the bill would be a strong starting point for a broader conversation about how privacy rights for U.S. citizens differ greatly from those abroad.

Pressure is on Congress to pass the legislation as a data protection deal with the European Union hinges on the measure. The deal with the EU lays out guidelines for how they will exchange data during cross-border criminal and terrorist investigations. The guidelines regulate how long the governments can retain data and requires them to develop mechanisms to alert the public of any breaches of such data.

After four years of negotiations interrupted by the Snowden controversy, the stipulations of the EU deal have been finalized. But the European Parliament will not pass the umbrella agreement until Congress grants Europeans the same rights Americans already enjoy in European courts.

The EU’s calls for these rights are not new. The issue has come up in debates about sharing European passenger name records with the United States. Supporters of the bill say they do not expect it to be particularly controversial given the changed political landscape post-Snowden. However they’re wary that the U.S. Congress may not be sympathetic to rights of citizens abroad.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, will be marked up in the House Judiciary Committee. A similar bill has been referred to committee in the the Senate. Given the current political deadlock in Congress, it remains unclear how quickly the measure will move.