US and UK Sign Bilateral E-Evidence Agreement
On 3 October 2019, the United States and the United Kingdom signed the first agreement allowing the other party’s law enforcement authorities, when armed with appropriate court authorisation, to go directly to tech companies based in the other country to access electronic data in order to combat serious criminal offences. Such agreements are foreseen in the U.S. CLOUD Act, which responds to the converse problem that foreign countries face with respect to their ability to access data held by U.S. service providers (for details, see the article by J Daskal in eucrim 4/2018, pp. 220-225 ).
According to the press release, “[b]oth governments agreed to terms which broadly lift restrictions for a broad class of investigations, not targeting residents of the other country, and assure providers that disclosures through the Agreement are compatible with data protection laws.” The other party’s permission is required if essential state interests are at stake; this especially concerns death penalty prosecutions by the United States and UK cases involving the freedom of speech.
The agreement was described as “landmark” and “historic” upon its signing. The agreement was signed by U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr and UK Home Secretary Priti Patel at a ceremony at the British Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. The agreement is still in the legislative pipeline. It must be reviewed and approved by the U.S. and UK’s parliaments.
The major advantage of the agreement is seen in the acceleration of criminal investigations because law enforcement authorities will no longer need to go through the time-consuming, government-to-government mutual legal assistance process.