Bipartisan Bill to extend European citizens certain rights that Americans have under the Privacy Act of 1974

Last week a bipartisan bill (Judicial Redress Act of 2015) was introduced by Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The proposal echoes a  similar proposal in the House presented in March from Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) (here), which received also the support of the major tech companies of the United States (read here).

The Privacy Act of 1974 “establishes a code of fair information practices that governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies” (DOJ’s website)

Now the Act grants right to “individuals” being an “individual” “a citizen of the United States or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence.”  5 U.S.C. § 552a(a)(2).  As the case law has made clear, “[Privacy] Act only protects citizens of the United States or aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence.” Fares v. INS, No. 94-1339, 1995 WL 115809, at *4 (4th Cir. 1995) (per curiam). For a detailed discussion of the term “individual” under the Act and relevant case law, see here.

The Privacy Act “provides safeguards against invasion of personal privacy through the misuse of records by Federal Agencies. The Privacy Act was passed in 1974 to establish controls over what personal information is collected, maintained, used and disseminated by agencies in the executive branch of the Federal government. The Privacy Act only applies to records that are located in a “system of records.” (source:DOS’s website).

The “individuals” under the Act (i.e. American citizen and lawful permanent resident) have the right: (i) to see records about themselves, subject to Privacy Act exemptions; (ii) “to request the amendment of records that are not accurate, relevant, timely or complete; and (iii) “to be protected against unwarranted invasion of their privacy resulting from the collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information.” (source:DOS’s website).

The bills that are pending in the House and in the Senate aim at extending some of the protections of the Privacy Act of 1974 to citizens of certain countries. As Senator Murphy explains: “Under current law, only U.S. citizens can seek redress in U.S. courts when their privacy rights are violated. In contrast, many European allies already provide that right to U.S. citizens in their courts of law. This legislation simply establishes reciprocity with our closest friends, and ensures that they continue to share information crucial to our law enforcement cooperation. This bill will enhance transatlantic relations and promote a mutually beneficial environment for U.S. and European businesses.” (source: Senator Murphy’s website)

The pending legislation would extend redress rights of the U.S. Privacy Act to European citizens who would be able to  request corrections of inaccuracies of personal data held by US government and to sue under the Act.

For more information, Francesca Giannoni-Crystal

Chris Murphy           Orrin Hatch

Senator Hatch Senator Murphy