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Senate marks Data Privacy Day with passage of critical bill for Safe Harbor

EU/US data jigsaw pieces fitting together

The US Senate has celebrated Data Privacy Day by passing a critical piece of legislation that will extend US privacy rights to Europeans.

The Judicial Redress Act passed the Senate's Judiciary Committee on Thursday, putting it in front of the full Senate and making it a virtual certainty to become law.

The Act will extend the same privacy rights that US citizens enjoy to European citizens, and will provide European citizens with the right to proper judicial redress over how their data is handled by American corporations and the US government.

Europeans will be able to access records about themselves collected by the US government, and amend those records. It the records are disclosed unlawfully, they will be able to sue.

These rights should remove a final obstacle to the creation of a revised Safe Harbor agreement that covers data transfer across the Atlantic – a critical source of commerce.

The previous Safe Harbor agreement was struck down by the European Court of Justice in October following a lawsuit by law student Max Schrems against Facebook. Schrems argued that following revelations of mass surveillance by the US government exposed by Edward Snowden, US companies were not able to ensure the privacy of the information they had access to through Safe Harbor.

Since October, US and EU officials have been scrambling to reach a new agreement before a deadline of the end of this week, set by Europe's data protection authorities.

Earlier this week, officials close to negotiations said they were confident a new agreement was close to being reached, but they also stressed that the Judicial Redress Act was a critical component of that deal. Now it seems it may be the final missing piece of the jigsaw if and when it passes.

As for the fact that the US government continues to carry out mass surveillance of internet traffic, a European official pointed to the fact that a number of changes in law and presidential executive orders have provided sufficient "flexibility" for the EC to sign a new Safe Harbor deal. The details of that agreement are still currently a closely held secret. ®

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