Google urges US government to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens

There has been too little reform since the Snowden revelations, Google said

The U.S. government should give European citizens whose personal data is sent to U.S. authorities the same privacy protections that American citizens already enjoy in the EU, Google's top lawyer has said ahead of trans-Atlantic talks.

Commission officials will be in Washington on Thursday for further discussions about the data protection umbrella agreement the EU has been negotiating with the U.S. since March 2011.

The deal aims to protect personal data transferred between the two for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses, including terrorism. The proposed protections would also cover the bulk collection of personal data transmitted by airlines on all passengers flying to the U.S., or that concerning international money transfers gathered by banks under the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.

After the revelations in 2013 of widespread government surveillance via telecoms and Internet companies, "Google and many other technology companies have urged the U.S. to take the lead and introduce reforms that ensure government surveillance activity is clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight," said David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer in a blog post. "Sadly, we've seen little serious reform to date."

He asked the U.S. government to show a new attitude on Thursday and extend the U.S. Privacy Act to EU citizens.

"Right now, European citizens do not have the right to challenge misuse of their data by the US government in US courts -- even though American citizens already enjoy this right in most European countries," Drummond said, adding that this needs to change. The Obama Administration has already pledged its support for this change and Drummond said Google wants to work with Congress to try and make this happen.

The request for equal treatment of Europeans in the U.S. is one of the last hurdles for concluding the data exchange agreement of which about 95 percent has already been agreed during the last three years.

That matter isn't the only point of discussion though. There will also be talks about a possible revision of the Safe Harbor agreement, a Commission spokeswoman said. That agreement gives U.S. companies the ability to process personal data from E.U. citizens while providing data protection as strong as required by EU legislation.

The Safe Harbor agreement has been under fire since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of U.S. surveillance, and could be suspended by the EU if U.S. lawmakers don't do more to protect European citizens' data, warned Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the Commission responsible for the Digital Single Market. Suspending the data agreement would have major implications for companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft that process European citizens' data in the U.S.

However, no decisions will be reached this week, the Commission spokeswoman said, as the chief negotiator, Justice Commissioner Vra Jourová can't attend the meeting in Washington due to health reasons.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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