(credit: U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing)
The UK and US governments are working on an agreement that would allow MI5 and other intelligence agencies to serve orders on US companies like Google and Facebook for live intercepts of conversations if they involve only British citizens. According to a report in The Washington Post, the UK would also be able to request stored data, such as e-mails. The agreement would be reciprocal, allowing the US to request similar data about Americans from UK companies.
If concluded, the agreement would help to resolve the difficult situation for US Internet companies, which are increasingly under pressure from the UK government to provide intercepts or stored data for domestic investigations of terrorist and criminal activities, but forbidden from doing so by US laws.
Currently, the only mechanism for obtaining this kind of information is through a mutual legal assistance treaty. As The Washington Post explains, this involves the UK making “a formal diplomatic request for the data and the Justice Department then seeks a court order on its behalf—a process that is said to take an average of 10 months.” The proposed system would enable the UK and US governments to obtain intercepts through official channels more easily and more speedily. There is ample evidence that many other, more informal channels exist for exchanging information, but it may be that both governments would like to put things on a firmer legal basis.
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