In what may prove to be a major step forward in US-EU privacy relations, the House Judicial Committee approved H.R. 1428, the Judicial Redress Act of 2015, on September 16.  If enacted, the bill would allow citizens of “covered countries” to bring civil actions in the US under the Privacy Act of 1974.  In effect, this means that certain foreign nationals would have the same rights US citizens have under the Privacy Act – namely, the right to sue US government agencies in order to access, amend, or correct records the agencies may be keeping about them, or to seek redress for the unlawful disclosure of those records.  (Note that the Privacy Act does not cover private businesses or state and local governments; it only allows individuals to seek records from federal government agencies.) Citizens of the US already have such rights in the EU, so the Judicial Redress Act would provide corresponding rights for EU citizens.

The bill is being advanced in order to formally conclude the pending “Umbrella Agreement” between the US and the EU.  The Umbrella Agreement sets out certain safeguards that US and EU law enforcement agencies must provide for personal data – such as names, addresses, and criminal records – that they exchange.  However, the agreement will not go into effect until the Judicial Redress Act becomes law in the US.  Given the European concerns about American agencies’ data collection practices, which have been exacerbated in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, both the Umbrella Agreement and Judicial Redress Act are significant privacy measures that also serve an important diplomatic purpose.

Although the primary aim of the Judicial Redress Act is to provide a benefit for EU citizens, the bill does not allude specifically to Europe and states only that it will apply to citizens of “covered countries” to be designated by the Attorney General.  In theory, this means that the government could choose to extend Privacy Act rights to citizens of other, non-EU countries in the future.

You can track the progress of the Judicial Redress Act here.