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Lords ‘deeply troubled’ by UK-US anti-crime agreement

18/11/19

Parliamentary Correspondent

A crime fighting data sharing agreement with the USA puts UK suspects at risk of the death penalty or of being sent to Guantanamo Bay, peers have warned.

Houses of Parliament

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Security Committee has criticised “deeply troubling” and “alarming” evidence given by the Home Office about the Access to Electronic Data for the Purpose of Countering Serious Crime agreement struck by the two countries last month.

It has also attacked a failure to provide full details of how the agreement will work until weeks after it was announced by Priti Patel, the home secretary, and William Barr, the US attorney general.

The agreement will give police and intelligence agencies speedy access to electronic communications sent by terrorists, serious crime gangs and white collar criminals.

It currently takes police and security services between six months and two years to request and obtain electronic data, under a cumbersome ‘mutual legal assistance’ treaty.

The new agreement will compel Facebook, Google and Twitter to hand over the content of emails, texts and direct messages – and require the same of UK companies holding information sought by US investigators.

Speeding up

Patel hailed the historic agreement as the way to “dramatically speed up investigations, allowing our law enforcement agencies to protect the public”. But it has now been examined by the committee,which took evidence from the Home Office before Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

The peers were told the risk of the handover of a UK citizen’s data leading to that person’s transfer to the Guantanamo Bay was “very limited” but “theoretically possible”.

Their report concludes: “While these assurances are helpful, given the gravity of the matter, we take the view that even a theoretical possibility is alarming.”

The Home Office said data would not be released and used to extradite a suspect without “credible assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out”.

But the lords have urged the next Parliament not to settle for such a response, saying: “We find the Home Office’s answer deeply troubling.”

Need for assurance

It asks: “Who in a US administration would be in a position to give these “credible assurances”, given that the decision whether to impose the death penalty would be a matter for the courts?

“What would constitute a “credible assurance”? How does allowing a UK citizen or someone extradited from a third country, on the basis of information provided by the UK, to be kept on death row on the “credible assurance” that the penalty would not be carried out, fully meet the UK’s long standing opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances?”

The agreement was not approved before dissolution, ensuring it will be a source of controversy when the new Parliament sits after the general election.

Image from iStock

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