UK and US Governments sign Data Access Agreement in bid to combat terrorism

Home Secretary Priti Patel has signed an historic agreement that will enable British law enforcement agencies to directly demand electronic data relating to terrorists and other serious criminals from US tech firms. The world-first UK-US Bilateral Data Access Agreement will dramatically speed up investigations and prosecutions by enabling law enforcement, with the appropriate authorisation, to go directly to the tech companies to access data rather than through Governments, which can take years.

The UK-US Bilateral Data Access Agreement was signed with US Attorney General William Barr in Washington DC, where the Home Secretary also met security partners to discuss the two countries’ ever-deeper co-operation and global leadership on security.

Patel said: “Terrorists continue to exploit the Internet to spread their messages of hate, plan attacks on our citizens and target the most vulnerable. As Home Secretary I’m determined to do everything in my power to stop them. This historic Bilateral Data Access Agreement will dramatically speed up investigations, allowing our law enforcement agencies to protect the public. This is just one example of the enduring security partnership we have with the US and I look forward to continuing to work with them and global partners to tackle these heinous crimes.”

Barr responded: “This Bilateral Data Access Agreement will enhance the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to fight serious crime – including terrorism, transnational organised crime and child exploitation – by allowing more efficient and effective access to data needed for quick-moving investigations. Only by addressing the problem of timely access to electronic evidence of crime committed in one country that’s stored in another can we hope to keep pace with 21st Century threats. This Bilateral Data Access Agreement will make the citizens of both countries safer, while at the same time assuring robust protections for privacy and civil liberties.”

Considerable time savings

The current process, which sees any requests for communications data from law enforcement agencies submitted and approved by central Governments via Mutual Legal Assistance, can often take anywhere from six months up to two years. Once in place, the Bilateral Data Access Agreement will see the process reduced to a matter of weeks or even days, representing a huge improvement.

The Bilateral Data Access Agreement will, each year, accelerate dozens of complex investigations into suspected terrorists. The US will have reciprocal access, under a US court order, to data from UK communication service providers. The UK has obtained assurances which are in line with the Government’s continued opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances.

Any request for data must be made under an authorisation in accordance with the legislation of the country making the request and will be subject to independent oversight or review by a court, a judge, a magistrate or some other independent authority.

The Bilateral Data Access Agreement doesn’t change anything about the way companies can use encryption and doesn’t stop companies from encrypting data. It gives effect to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019, which received Royal Assent in February and was facilitated by the CLOUD Act in America, as passed last year.

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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