US Attorney General Eric Holder has raised a few eyebrows by announcing plans to give Europeans the same legal protections as US citizens when Uncle Sam's agents seek their private information.
Holder claimed the Obama administration would put forth legislation to offer EU citizens the same data protection rights and access to the courts under law as US citizens, including the ability to file for redress in America should their data be wrongfully disclosed by g-men.
In other words, this does not signal the end of the likes of the NSA spying on foreigners, but instead gives EU peeps some leverage if the g-men leak slurped data.
"In a world of globalized crime and terrorism, we can protect our citizens only if we work together internationally, including through sharing law enforcement information with and by EU Member States and other close allies," Holder said.
"At the same time, we must ensure that we continue our long tradition of protecting privacy in the law enforcement context. The step we are announcing today will help advance both goals."
The legislation was part of a larger effort by Holder to strike a joint EU-US Data Protection and Privacy Agreement (DPAA) which would offer "umbrella" legal protections spanning EU and US jurisdictions. The deal would apply to data transfers between law enforcement agencies in the US and local European agencies when investigating terrorism and other international legal issues.
Such a deal would at least provide Europeans a forum for addressing their grievances in the courts when they feel personal information has been mishandled or abused by authorities.
The talks are part of an ongoing effort by the Obama administration to repair relations with the EU in the wake of revelations from Edward Snowden revealing the extent to which US law enforcement agencies were accessing private records and other sensitive data on EU citizens.
In January, European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding threatened to pull "safe harbour" protections with the US should the administration not hammer out an agreement on new data protection measures with the EU this summer.
While no deal between the two sides has been agreed upon, both Holder and Reding had expressed optimism that an agreement of some sort would be struck soon.
"The US administration is now announcing that it will take legislative action to fill the gap between the rights that U.S. citizens enjoy in the EU today and the rights EU citizens do not have in the U.S. – something which the Commission has been arguing for during the past three years," Reading said in a response to Holder's announcement.
"This is an important first step towards rebuilding trust in our transatlantic relations." ®