BERLIN—U.S. and European officials finalized a long-awaited data-protection deal that would provide a road map for how personal information is protected when shared across the Atlantic by law-enforcement authorities, officials announced Tuesday.
The so-called “umbrella agreement” is the culmination of four years of negotiations over how police and judges should be able to share data during the course of criminal or terrorism investigations that cross borders, and it marks a significant step forward to rebuild trust between the United States and its European allies after the Edward Snowden spying revelations that began more than two years ago.
For the deal to take effect, however, Congress will first have to pass a measure granting European citizens the right to sue in U.S. courts if they believe American authorities have misused their personal data. A bill to that effect introduced in recent months has earned some bipartisan support, but lawmakers remain gridlocked and distracted heading into an election year.
“I am very pleased that today we have finalised negotiations with the U.S. on high data-protection standards for transatlantic law-enforcement cooperation,” Věra Jourová, the European Commission’s justice commissioner, said in a statement. “Robust cooperation between the EU and the U.S. to fight crime and terrorism is crucial to keep Europeans safe.”
But, Jourová added, “all exchanges of personal data, such as criminal records, names, or addresses, need to be governed by strong data-protection rules. This is what the umbrella agreement will ensure.”
A significant hang-up for the agreement has been the inability for Europeans living in the United States to sue U.S. federal agencies if they believe their data has been improperly used, shared, or disclosed. American citizens possess that right already in the European Union.
Earlier this year, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced the Judicial Redress Act to address the data-protection imbalance. His measure would grant citizens of European allies the right to sue in the United States in regard to data privacy violations. A proposed amendment to the long-stalled Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, put forward by Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, mirrors the Sensenbrenner effort.
“The recent agreement on data sharing between nations is a great step forward for international safety and prosperity,” Sensenbrenner said in a Tuesday statement. “The Judicial Redress Act, however, remains a critical piece in our partnership with the European Union and is critical to ensure continued sharing of law enforcement intelligence. I am optimistic that it will not only be brought before Congress, but will be passed with bipartisan support.”
Jourová also called on Congress to adopt the bill, “which would enable us to finally sign and conclude the umbrella agreement,” she said.
Jourová also said that European officials were working in tandem with the United States to complete a more robust safe-harbor agreement, which deals with corporate data. Such agreements require U.S. companies to certify that they meet certain levels of privacy protections. If they clear European standards, the companies are allowed to store and process Europeans’ personal data.
The umbrella agreement also includes limits on data retention, notification requirements in the event of data breaches, and a right to access one’s personal data—and correct it if inaccurate—maintained by law-enforcement authorities, according to a fact sheet released with the announcement of the deal.
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