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Google urges US to let Europeans sue over information disclosures

As Google combats Europe' take on privacy, it wants the Europeans to enjoy the benefits of US privacy laws.

Google has urged the Obama government to make good on a pledge to extend the right to sue the US over privacy incursions by its spy agencies to Europeans too.

The call from Google came ahead of a EU-US ministerial meeting on Justice and Home Affairs in Washington on Thursday. As Google's chief counsel David Drummond put it, the US government should "extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens".

Earlier this year, the Obama administration promised European officials it would attempt to push through legislation that would allow Europeans to seek legal redress in US courts "if personal data shared with US authorities by their home countries for law enforcement purposes under the proposed agreement is subsequently intentionally or willfully disclosed".

The proposal was linked to talks over an EU-US Data Protection and Privacy Agreement that also included provisions for transatlantic information sharing to combat crime and terrorism, in particular as a response to foreign fighters travelling to Syria.   

Legislation like this would put Europeans' rights on equal footing with US citizens', under the US Privacy Act, to sue US government over such disclosures. On top of this, Drummond notes, such legislation would offer Europeans the same rights that US citizens enjoy in most of Europe.

Google hopes that introducing the legislation would go some way to mending relations between Europe following the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, detailing the extent of US surveillance.

"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. Sadly, we've seen little serious reform to date," Drummond wrote on the Google blog.

"However, the US government can signal a new attitude when representatives of the European Commission visit Washington DC tomorrow."

"It's why Google supports legislation to extend the US Privacy Act to EU citizens. The Obama administration has already pledged its support for this change and we look forward to to working with Congress to try and make this happen," he added.

The call from Google comes as it faces new challenges from incoming European Commission officials over privacy, intellectual property and competition. 

Drummond was in Europe last week as Google wrapped up its tour to educate Europeans about the right to be forgotten decision by European Court of Justice.     

While acknowledging the threat of ISIS, Drummond said "the balance in the US and many other countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

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