European data privacy bill delayed in Senate

European data privacy bill delayed in Senate
© Getty Images

Legislation that would allow European citizens to defend their privacy in U.S. court is being delayed in the Senate, potentially putting a wrench in ongoing negotiations over a new data transfer pact with the European Union.

The so-called Judicial Redress Act is being held over from a scheduled vote on Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to panel aides.

The bill would give citizens from approved EU countries the right to enforce their data protection rights in U.S. courts and is seen as critical to securing a new Safe Harbor agreement. When the European high court struck down the original framework last fall, it specifically cited a lack of redress for EU citizens whose data is mishandled in the U.S.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in October invalided the 15-year-old legal framework that American companies have used to handle European citizens’ data on the basis that U.S. law doesn’t offer individuals sufficient privacy protections.

Negotiators are currently racing to meet an end-of-January deadline to craft a new framework for the 4,400 companies that had relied on the original agreement to transfer data — from social media to hotel bookings — across the Atlantic. 

Although some critics have called the court decision overly political, others see it as an unfortunate result of systemic European distrust of the American approach to privacy.

The Judicial Redress Act has been part of tense negotiations between the two governments as the U.S. struggles to rebuild trust after the surveillance revelations of former defense contractor Edward Snowden.

Following the court’s ruling last year, both of the bill’s sponsors urged swift action on the legislation as a show of good faith.

“In support of the critical, collaborative relationship that the U.S. has with the EU, it is more important than ever that Congress pass the Judicial Redress Act into law so that we can begin to put back together these U.S.-EU data sharing protocols,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyFlake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (D-Conn.) said in October.

“Unless the U.S. and EU resolve this matter promptly, the global economy will be deprived of the benefits of data services,” co-sponsor Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKoch groups: Don't renew expired tax breaks in government funding bill Hatch tweets link to 'invisible' glasses after getting spotted removing pair that wasn't there DHS giving ‘active defense’ cyber tools to private sector, secretary says MORE (R-Utah) said. “Now more than ever it is critically important that Congress pass the Judicial Redress Act to provide assurances to our European allies that the United States respects data privacy.”

The legislation is also a prerequisite for a law enforcement threat-sharing “umbrella agreement” that U.S. and European Union negotiators agreed to last year. The EU says that if Congress does not pass legislation extending the right to seek legal redress for privacy violations to non-U.S. citizens, the agreement is a no-go.