House panel approves bill to extend privacy rights to Europe

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would give European citizens the right to sue in U.S. courts over misuse of their personal data.

The measure, known as the Judicial Redress Act, is seen as central to helping mollify European allies angered by the revelation of widespread U.S. surveillance programs. The bill is also the lynchpin in a recently signed deal between the U.S. and European Union that would allow law enforcement agencies on both sides to swap more data.

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“In recent years, several broad and highly publicized leaks of classified U.S. intelligence information have eroded the global public’s trust in the United States government and our technology sector,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview MORE (R-Va.) during his opening remarks.

“The Judicial Redress Act can go a long way toward restoring our allies’ faith in U.S. data privacy protections and helping facilitate agreements,” he added.

The offering from Reps. John Conyers (Mich.), the panel’s top Democrat, and Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Bring back equitable access for the Digital Age: Congress must act House votes to impeach Trump MORE (R-Wis.), is relatively non-controversial. It was approved by voice vote without amendments.

Despite the broad consensus, Congress has sat for several months on the measure.

But a recent U.S.-EU data sharing “umbrella agreement” has ratcheted up the pressure on lawmakers.

Negotiators inked the pact last week with one contingency: EU citizens would first have to receive the right to seek legal redress for data privacy violations in U.S. courts.

Now Congress has started to act.

In addition to the House markup, two senators supporting a companion bill, Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Trump administration backs Oracle in Supreme Court battle against Google MORE (R-Utah) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (D-Conn.), are seeking to speed their bill’s passage through either unanimous consent or by attaching it to an upcoming cybersecurity bill.

It’s common sense for the U.S. to extend such a right to the EU, Sensenbrenner said during the markup.

“We already enjoy similar protections in Europe,” he explained.

“If we fail to pass the Judicial Redress Act, we will undermine several important international agreements, harm our businesses operating in Europe and severely limit” data sharing between law enforcement agencies.

Rep. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas) spoke in support of the measure, but also implored his colleagues to not ignore other privacy-enhancing provisions, such as an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a 30-year-old law that sets the rules for government access to electronic data.

Under the current law, officials can use a subpoena, rather than a warrant, to force companies to hand over customers’ electronic communications that are more than 180 days old.

A majority of the House has backed a bill, the Email Privacy Act, that would institute a warrant requirement for officials seeking digital communications.

“I fear we’re lagging behind in the House,” Poe said, a likely nod to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the topic. “The longer we delay, the longer the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans are not protected.”

Goodlatte chimed in to assure Poe.

“The chair would express his keen interesting in all the bills you described,” he said. “We are actively working on that and looking at the various alternatives.”