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US Attorney General promises stronger data privacy rights to Europeans

updated 12:19 pm EDT, Fri June 27, 2014

Proposal would extend US Privacy Act rights to EU citizens

European citizens could receive some of the same rights to privacy as Americans in the future, if new proposals are adopted. US Attorney General Eric Holder advised to European leaders in Athens, Greece on Wednesday that the Obama administration is working on legislation that would provide EU residents similar protections under the US Privacy Act as US citizens already have.

An effort to restore the strained relationship between the two continents following the Edward Snowden revelations, The Guardian reports the proposed law would cover data being collected by or transferred to the US for law enforcement purposes, including information gathered by the National Security Agency using its various mass surveillance programs. The revelations have reportedly prevented AT&T from expanding into Europe and forced the UK government into banning iPads from meetings, while reports claim German chancellor Angela Merkel's smartphone has been monitored by the NSA, among other world leaders.

US Attorney General Eric Holder
US Attorney General Eric Holder

"The Obama administration is committed to seeking legislation that would ensure that ... EU citizens would have the same rights 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 US citizen under the Privacy Act," said Holder. "This commitment, which has long been sought by the EU, reflects our resolve to move forward not only on the data protection and privacy agreement but on strengthening transatlantic ties."

Human rights groups and EU leaders have welcomed the proposals, with reservations. EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said it was an important move, but "Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step." Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, advises there to be "three massive impediments to achieving equivalent protection under law." First, Hosein believes Congress will be loathe to act, as he believes it has yet to make many positive gestures to protect non-Americans. For the second point, Hosein describes the US Privacy Act as an "unfortunately weak legal regime," with a request for worldwide privacy protections against the already-accumulated data being his third.

After the meeting, EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom admitted to the strained EU-US relations, but claims "we have worked very hard to restore trust."

by MacNN Staff



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