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US promises to pass legislation granting privacy rights to European citizens

In a turnaround from comments made earlier in 2013, US Attorney General Eric Holder has promised leaders of the European Union that the Obama administration would push forward legislation extending the US Privacy Act of 1974 to European citizens.

The Privacy Act of 1974 was intended to protect the data and personal information of Americans from unlawful inter-agency dissemination by federal agencies. The main text of the act states:

No agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains.

Additionally, the act grants the right for American citizens to lawfully request records or documents any federal agency keeps on them. And although the legislature previously pertained solely to American citizens, an extension passed by the Obama administration would ensure, at the very least, that citizens of the European Union are safe from their data being transferred to the US for "law enforcement purposes."

The promise came after a meeting on Wednesday between US and EU officials in Athens. According to Holder, the push for legislation reflects "[our] resolve to move forward not only on the data protection and privacy agreement but on strengthening transatlantic ties." 

This commitment comes in the wake of a report by Privacy International which claimed that the British government was intercepting data of its citizens even if the communications took place outside the UK. And although the US is moving in the right direction in terms of privacy rights, especially with the recent passage of legislation removing funding from the NSA's controversial backdoor search programs, the larger issue of surveillance and privacy rights is still at hand -- especially given how close US and UK intelligence agencies have remained in the past decade.

Source: The Guardian | Image via Shutterstock - Data privacy concept

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