Google on Wednesday called on the federal government to allow European citizens to challenge the misuse of their data by the U.S. government in U.S. courts, a right already enjoyed by Americans in the European Union.
The proposal would help heal rifts that have appeared between the U.S. and Europe in the wake of surveillance revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Google chief legal officer David Drummond wrote in a company blog post.
The call by the search giant comes ahead of a Washington D.C. visit from representatives of the European Commission.
Several large technology firms, including Google, have been vocal about the damage the rift between the U.S. and Europe on data privacy matters has had on their business, following the Snowden disclosures. Last December, technology executives warned President Obama that the spying programs had damaged their reputations abroad and at home.
"Google and many other technology companies have urged the US 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," Drummond wrote. "Sadly, we’ve seen little serious reform to date. "
At a speech in Athens last July, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the "the Obama Administration is committed to seeking legislation that would ensure that...EU citizens would have the same right to seek judicial redress for intentional or willful disclosures of protected information, and for refusal to grant access or to rectify any errors in that information, as would a U.S. citizen under the Privacy Act."
Holder's words were met with some skepticism. At the time, then-EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding told the Guardian, "Words only matter if put into law. We are waiting for the legislative step."
Privacy advocates, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, have long called for these reforms in the past. These changes would mirror rights that U.S. citizens already have in the European Union, said EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg.
"From the EU perspective, one of the oddities of US law is that the Privacy Act distinguishes between US and non US citizens," he noted. "There is no similar distinction in EU law."
To date, there has not been any legislative movement on this issue, said Khaliah Barnes, administrative law counsel at the privacy. However, EPIC has asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to prioritize Privacy Act enforcement. The PCLOB board is holding a public meeting Wednesday on some of these issues in a panel called "Defining Privacy."