The most important statement at the meeting came from US ambassador William Kennard who said that US Congress cannot reopen debate on the Privacy Act.
The agreement as envisaged by the Commission “will guarantee a certain number of basic rights for those whose data is gathered” to enable them to take legal action, in Europe or the USA, against abuses of these rights, explained Ms Le Bail. “A key issue is recognition – or otherwise – that European citizens possess the same rights as Americans under the Privacy Act. And only Congress can change that”, observed Rui Tavares (GUE/NGL, PT).
“I don’t think that Congress can reopen debate on the Privacy Act. The Obama Adminstration does not want this, and personal view is that it won’t happen”, replied Mr Kennard. Many other legal remedies could be used to solve the problem, he added.
Europe’s objections, based on privacy considerations, worry U.S.
counterterrorism officials because computer scrutiny of passenger lists
has become an increasingly important tool in the struggle to prevent
terrorists from entering the United States or traveling to and from
their havens. The would-be Times Square bomber was hauled off a
Dubai-bound airliner in May, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official
said, after his name on the manifest produced a ding in Department of
Homeland Security computers.
Kennard said that the United States would oppose any attempt to make the
new agreement invalidate the dozens of agreements, most of them secret,
that the United States has concluded with individual European
governments. But several European Parliament members said that leaving
those accords intact would make no sense if they violate the
pan-European agreement, insisting they would have to be updated.