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.
The Obama administration has caved in to pressure from the European Union in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations on surveillance by promising to pass legislation granting European citizens many of theprivacy protection rights enjoyed by US citizens. The proposed law would apply to data on European citizens being transferred to the US for what Washington says is law enforcement purposes. After the first Snowden revelations appeared in June last year, the Obama administration irritated many by insisting that while US citizens were protected by law from snooping by US spy agencies, this did not apply to non-Americans. On Wednesday the US attorney general, Eric Holder, promised at a US-EU meeting of home affairs and justice ministers in Athens that legislation would be sent to Congress to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens. The EU, as well as human rights and privacy groups, welcomed Holder’s announcement but coupled it with expressions of scepticism, describing it as a vague promise. Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, said it was an important step in the right direction but added: “Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step.” Human rights groups said the US Privacy Act, in spite of being touted as a beacon for the rest of the world, had a relatively weak regulatory framework. They said Holder’s pledge did not address many of the other issues raised by mass surveillance worldwide by the NSA and its partners, including Britain’s GCHQ.