US Attorney General: US will seek to introduce law granting EU citizens data protection rights

ATHENS, Greece – The Obama administration will seek to introduce legislation that grants Europeans the same privacy protection rights as U.S. citizens when their data is being transferred to the U.S. for law enforcement purposes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.

The U.S. and EU have been negotiating since March 2011 on the protection of personal data in such cases, which include transferring data of European citizens to the U.S. for crime prevention, prosecution, investigation and combating terrorism. The EU argues that its citizens who do not live in the U.S. should have the same rights as US citizens living in the EU.

“The Obama administration is committed to seeking legislation that would ensure that … EU citizens would have the same right to seek judicial redress for intentional or wilful disclosures of protected information, and for refusal to grant access or to rectify any errors in that information, as would a U.S. citizen under the Privacy Act,” Holder said.

He was speaking Wednesday after an EU-U.S. Justice and Home Affairs ministerial meeting in Athens. Greece currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.

Trans-Atlantic relations have been tested following the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the U.S. was spying on its European allies.

“EU-U.S. relations have been strained lately in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, but we have worked very hard to restore trust and there is strong commitment on both sides to work jointly,” EU home commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.

The European Commission’s top justice official, Viviane Reding, described Holder’s announcement as “an important first step” but said it “should be swiftly translated into legislation.”

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

Holder said the administration will be “moving quickly to formulate the proposal and then to present it to our Congress.”