Lawmakers rush to get 11th hour privacy deal


Lawmakers are scrambling to strike an eleventh-hour deal to move a key privacy bill that many believe is integral to reaching a new transatlantic data transfer agreement.

{mosads}People tracking the negotiations believe a deal has been struck, ensuring a Senate Judiciary Committee vote scheduled for Thursday morning.

But lawmakers were still uncertain if they have a deal late Wednesday.

“I know there are discussions, but I haven’t gotten an update on what the outcome is yet. But I hope that’s right,” Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters.

At issue is a proposed edit to the Judicial Redress Act, which would give citizens from European countries the right to sue in U.S. court if their personal data is mishandled.

The bill is seen by many as an important good-faith effort that would help U.S. negotiators reach a deal on a new Safe Harbor agreement with the European Union before a Jan. 31 deadline.

The original agreement, struck down last fall, permitted U.S. firms to legally handle European citizens’ data. Europe’s data privacy regulators have said that they will begin to take enforcement action against U.S. firms at the end of the month.

Industry representatives say some lawmakers saw the Judicial Redress Act as a giveaway to Europe. In response, they floated an amendment that would force the European countries covered by the bill to allow commercial data transfers with the U.S. In addition, the amendment also included a provision stating that the bill could not impede U.S. national security interests.

According to those familiar with the negotiations, some of the amendment’s original language was considered overly broad, raising concerns that it might stymie the bill’s smooth passage through the Senate.

The House version of the legislation passed unanimously last year.

In addition to its significance to the Safe Harbor negotiations, the bill is also a prerequisite of a pending data-sharing umbrella agreement between the EU and the U.S. that would allow the two sides to exchange more data during criminal and terrorism investigations.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), has expressed growing frustration that the legislation hasn’t moved forward. It was scheduled for markup last week, but was held over to this Thursday by the bill’s other sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).  

“Every minute that ticks by, we’re closer to catastrophe for U.S. tech companies. This Safe Harbor agreement can’t be negotiated overnight, and the Europeans have made it clear for a long time that they want this bill passed before they sign a Safe Harbor agreement, and I don’t think they’re out of bounds in making that request,” Murphy told The Hill on Wednesday.

Some experts dispute that the bill is a necessary ingredient to a final deal on Safe Harbor.

“It could certainly make things easier, but it’s not a necessary condition — it wouldn’t hurt negotiations to have it, but it’s not necessary,” Adam Schlosser, director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Global Regulatory Cooperation, told The Hill last week, echoing other policy and commerce experts following the U.S.-EU negotiations.

Cornyn on Wednesday also indicated that movement on the bill should not be tied to the Jan. 31 deadline.

“I don’t think we need to be operating based on deadlines set by the European Union or outside parties,” Cornyn told The Hill. “We need to get it right. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

—Cory Bennett and David McCabe contributed.

Tags Chris Murphy John Cornyn Orrin Hatch
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