Murphy urges movement on privacy bill after Safe Harbor decision

By:  Katie Bo Williams
The Hill

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Thursday urged Congress to take action on a bill that would extend certain data privacy rights to citizens of the European Union, following a high court decision that lambasted U.S. surveillance practices.

“In support of the critical, collaborative relationship that the U.S. has with the EU, it is more important than ever that Congress pass the Judicial Redress Act into law so that we can begin to put back together these U.S.-EU data sharing protocols,” Murphy said Thursday.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday invalided a 15-year-old legal framework that American companies have used to handle European citizens’ data, claiming that U.S. law doesn’t offer individuals sufficient privacy protections.

While some critics have called the ECJ decision overly political, others see it as an unfortunate result of systemic European distrust of the American approach to privacy.

The Judicial Redress Act, co-sponsored by Murphy and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is part of tense negotiations between the two as the U.S. struggles to rebuild trust after the surveillance revelations of former defense contractor Edward Snowden.

The court opinion criticized the U.S. for failing to provide European citizens with the right to judicial redress in the event that their data is compromised.

Murphy’s bill would allow the attorney general to work with other agencies to designate certain countries whose citizens would have the right to enforce their data protection rights in U.S. courts.

The legislation is a prerequisite for a data sharing “umbrella agreement” that U.S. and European Union negotiators agreed to last month. The EU says that if Congress does not pass legislation extending the right to seek legal redress for privacy violations to non-U.S. citizens, the agreement is a no-go.

Hatch also called for action on the bill as a show of good faith following the court’s decision.

“Unless the U.S. and EU resolve this matter promptly, the global economy will be deprived of the benefits of data services,” Hatch said Tuesday. “Now more than ever it is critically important that Congress pass the Judicial Redress Act to provide assurances to our European allies that the United States respects data privacy.”

Policy experts say the bill will likely move forward without too much friction, irrespective of the ECJ’s decision.

“I think the need to get that done was felt even without this decision,” said Cameron Kerry, senior counsel at Sidley Austin and formerly the chief international negotiator for privacy and data regulations at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“It’s teed up to move forward and by all accounts is not regarded as controversial,” Kerry said. “Hopefully Congress will move swiftly to get it done.”