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20th Sep 2021

US to extend privacy rights to EU citizens

  • The EU and US have been in talks on getting a data protection umbrella agreement since March 2011 (Photo: chiara marra)

The US plans to extend the same rights as Americans have to EU citizens whose data has been breached or misused in the US.

The news was announced at an EU meeting of home affairs ministers in Athenson Wednesday (25 June) by US attorney general Erik Holder.

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“EU citizens would have the same right to seek judicial redress for intentional or willful disclosures of protected information,” he told reporters at a press conference, referring to US citizens' privileges under the so-called Privacy Act.

The development is part of a larger data protection and privacy agreement (DPPA).

It covers cases where personal data is used for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, including terrorism.

It means, among other things, that EU citizens not living in the US can take people to court in the US on the same legal basis as Americans.

For instance, an EU citizen whose name is incorrectly or inadvertently placed on a US blacklist would be entitled to go to court and have it removed by an American judge.

The issue has generated criticism from the EU in the past.

Under current rules, EU citizens cannot seek judicial redress in the US on such data-related matters, but Americans can do so in the EU.

“It is an issue of discrimination in the way where European citizens were treated in the United States,” said one top EU official.

Revelations of US-led mass surveillance last year piled on pressure for the Americans to restore trust with their EU counterparts.

Holder’s announcement still needs to be formulated into an official proposal and then presented to Congress.

He would not say when US lawmakers would decide on amending the Privacy Act.

“It is hard to predict a specific time, but I think we will be moving quickly to formulate the proposal and then to present it to our Congress,” he said.

The European Commission, for its part, has welcomed the proposal.

EU commissioner for justice Viviane Reding said she expects the US to move swiftly on the plan. Talks between the two sides on the issue started in 2011.

“Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step,” she said in a statement.

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