European citizens will soon win the right to sue the US government for snatching their personal and private data.
On Tuesday, the US Senate passed the Judicial Redress Act, which is a critical jigsaw piece for the new Privacy Shield agreement that governs the exchange of people's personal information over the Atlantic.
The Senate has passed a slightly different version from the one approved by the House earlier, so the two versions will need to be reconciled before being passed on to the President for his signature.
Co-sponsor of the bill Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said: "I am pleased the full Senate has passed this legislation, which demonstrates that the United States respects cross-border data privacy ... It will complete an important agreement with the EU and thereby improve the ability of law enforcement to fight crime and terrorism."
What the legislation will do is provide a vital right of judicial redress for European citizens if they feel their privacy rights have been infringed by the US government. It will also allow them to review and correct information held on them by federal agencies.
Wrangles over NSA
These were critical rights that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said needed to be included in any new deal after it struck down the long-standing Safe Harbor agreement covering data sent between the US and Europe.
What is less certain is whether the description of US security services' right to access that data is sufficiently clear. It was Edward Snowden's revelations that the NSA, among others, were conducting mass surveillance of internet traffic that led to a lawsuit against Facebook, which led to the ECJ decision.
Although there have been changes in the US over the security services' access to that data, a key part of the negotiation between US and EC officials over a new agreement was clarity over when and how they are allowed to access people's personal information.
Despite the US feeling confident it has done that under the new Privacy Shield agreement, many in Europe are less confident.
In particular, the Senate added a new provision that said the bill could not impede US national security interests – which many view as an escape clause for continued security services access.
Although the Senate passing the Judicial Redress Act will tie things up at the US end of things, Europe still has to go through a number of steps and legislative reviews before the Privacy Shield agreement is formally accepted. ®