The UK and US Governments have signed an agreement for access to electronic data in fighting serious crime.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) published the full agreement yesterday, which comes in response to increasing fears that terrorists and criminals are using international digital services, such as social media applications, to coordinate their activities. Most of the services are based outside the UK.
It will compel US technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to hand over the content of emails, texts and direct message to UK law enforcement agencies, and require the same of any British firms approached by US authorities within the law.
An explanatory memorandum says that the UK authorities’ requests for information as part of their investigations have previously been slowed down by several months by the requirements of the US/UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which require a detailed consideration for each instance.
It says the new agreement will enable national security, law enforcement and prosecution agencies to make requests using the appropriate legal process under the laws of their own countries. This is expected to significantly reduce the delays.
It will apply to data including the content of electronic or wire communications, stored computer data, traffic data or metadata. It has to be held or processed by a communications services provider in the US.
However, it will not apply to encrypted data, which will continue to prevent UK authorities from accessing relevant messages through platforms such as WhatsApp and Signal.
The agreement stipulates that the new rules only apply to serious crime, defined as anything that could lead to at least three years imprisonment.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Terrorists and paedophiles 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 am determined to do everything in my power to stop them. This historic agreement will dramatically speed up investigations, allowing our law enforcement agencies to protect the public.”
Image by Marcus Spiske, public domain