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US looks to allow EU citizens to sue over data privacy

Proposed legislation would open the door for those in Europe to sue in the US over the release of personal data.


The Obama administration is calling for legislation that would give European citizens the right to sue in the US if any of their private data was disclosed.

Announced Wednesday by US Attorney General Eric Holder, the proposal would guarantee that those in Europe could seek legal recourse through the US courts to protect their personal data. For example, people would be able to sue if any protected data obtained through law enforcement or surveillance was disclosed or if any errors were found in that data.

NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden have shed light on how the United States gathers data from citizens abroad, revelations that have created strains in the relationship between Europe and the US. But the US and the European Union have actually been trying to strike a deal since 2011 to protect personal data shared between the two sides, according to Reuters. The one impediment to agreeing on a personal data protection process has been the notion of allowing European citizens to sue in a US court.

"The Obama administration is committed to seeking legislation that would ensure that, with regard to personal information transferred within the scope of our proposed DPPA (Data Protection and Privacy Agreement) regarding police and judicial cooperation, EU citizens would have the same right 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," Holder said in a statement.

The onus will now be on the Obama administration to try to convince Congress to pass the legislation. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding called the proposal "an important first step towards rebuilding trust in our trans-Atlantic relations" but is adopting a wait-and-see approach until it becomes an actual law.

"Now the announcement should be swiftly translated into legislation so that further steps can be taken in the negotiation," Reding said in a statement. "Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step."