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.