Senate passes privacy bill key to two international agreements

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The Senate late on Tuesday passed a privacy bill that is considered integral to a pending transatlantic data transfer pact with the European Union.

The so-called Judicial Redress Act, which gives EU citizens the right to challenge misuse of their personal data in U.S. court, is also a prerequisite of a law enforcement data-sharing “umbrella” agreement reached last fall.

{mosads}“I am pleased the full Senate has passed this legislation, which demonstrates that the United States respects cross-border data privacy,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “It will complete an important agreement with the EU and thereby improve the ability of law enforcement to fight crime and terrorism.”

Hatch moved earlier this month to hotline the bill, allowing it to bypass normal floor procedure and pass by unanimous consent if no senator objects.

The bill has long been a stated requirement of the umbrella agreement, which would allow the U.S. and EU to exchange more data during criminal and terrorism investigations.

Its role in the final approval of so-called Privacy Shield, struck last week, is murkier. The deal replaces a 2000 agreement that permitted some 4,400 U.S. firms to legally handle European citizens’ data, struck down by the EU high court in October over privacy concerns.

One of the high court’s explicit criticisms was a lack of redress options for European citizens who feel their data has been misused in the U.S.

But those tracking the negotiations over a new agreement said that while passage of Judicial Redress would help move the updated deal forward, it wasn’t a make-or-break requirement.

Now, with the Privacy Shield under review by Europe’s privacy regulators, supporters hope the bill’s passage will make the watchdogs more likely to give it their stamp of approval.

More broadly, the bill is considered by many to be an important good-faith effort that will help rebuild trust in U.S. privacy law after ex-National Security Agency contractor revealed the breadth of the agency’s spying.

It received support from both the business and the tech communities and passed unanimously in the House, although it faced a brief flurry of opposition from Senate Republicans who saw it as concessionary.

An 11th-hour amendment requiring the countries covered by the bill to allow commercial data transfers with the U.S. passed the Judiciary Committee last month. In addition, the edit included a provision stating that the bill can not impede U.S. national security interests.

The move rankled some in Europe who saw it as strong-arming and some onlookers are concerned that it may impact how the privacy regulators receive the new Privacy Shield.

The bill’s other co-sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), reacted to its passage with relief. Murphy has been outspoken with his frustration that the legislation hasn’t proceeded more quickly.

“Despite months of delay, the Judicial Redress Act will cement the vital international relationships we rely on to fill gaps in law enforcement and support U.S. technology companies conducting business abroad,” Murphy said in a statement.

“I’m relieved that the Senate finally acted in America’s best interest and passed this relatively small bill that has such an outsized impact on our national security and the U.S. economy.”

Tags Chris Murphy Orrin Hatch

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