U.S. and U.K. Sign Deal To Access Data From Tech Companies

Tech companies like Facebook and Google have signed an agreement with the United States and United Kingdom governments in a first-of-its-kind deal that would allow law enforcement in both countries to quickly access data in the course of their criminal investigations.

According to a release fro the Justice Department, the agreement between the governments and tech companies would "dramatically speed up investigations by removing legal barriers to timely and effective collection of electronic evidence." Currently, law enforcement must go through the government agencies to access evidence, a process that can take up to two years, officials said. Now, under the new agreement and with "appropriate court authorization," law enforcement officials will be able to go directly to the tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter in order to directly access the electronic data. U.S. officials will also be able to receive access to British communication service providers.

“This agreement will enhance the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to fight serious crime -- including terrorism, transnational organized crime, and child exploitation -- by allowing more efficient and effective access to data needed for quick-moving investigations," said Barr. "Only by addressing the problem of timely access to electronic evidence of crime committed in one country that is stored in another, can we hope to keep pace with twenty-first century threats. This agreement will make the citizens of both countries safer, while at the same time assuring robust protections for privacy and civil liberties.”

The agreement was reached as part of the CLOUD (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data) Act, which allows the U.S. to enter into agreements with other countries to access any electronic data that has been stored overseas. It will go into force once lawmakers in the U.S. and the U.K. approve the agreement.

However, the new agreement does not prevent the tech companies from pursuing better encryption practices to store data on their platforms. End-to-end encryption, which is used on apps like WhatsApp and Signal, mean the users are the only ones who can see the messages being sent. Barr has urged tech companies to halt efforts to use end-to-end encryption, which can inhibit law enforcement's ability to protect the public.