United States, Australia Sign Deal To Combat Serious Crime

December 16, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

On Wednesday, Dec. 15 the U.S. and Australia signed a landmark agreement that will facilitate access to electronic data for investigations of serious crime, including terrorism and child sexual abuse. The agreement is authorized by the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, a bill Congress passed in 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement. 

The CLOUD Act Agreement will help ensure Australian and U.S. law enforcement agencies are able to timely access electronic data to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute serious crime, including child sexual abuse, ransomware attacks, terrorism and the sabotage of critical infrastructure over the internet.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said the agreement would enhance law enforcement cooperation and help keep communities in both countries safe, while protecting the values, principles and sovereignty of the U.S. and Australia.

“This Agreement paves the way for more efficient cross-border transfers of data between the United States and Australia so that our governments can more effectively counter serious crime, including terrorism, while adhering to the privacy and civil liberties values that we both share,” said Garland.

The CLOUD Act Agreement will now undergo Parliamentary and Congressional review processes in both countries.

In March 2018, the CLOUD Act was enacted to speed access to electronic information held by U.S.-based global providers that is critical to foreign partners’ investigations of serious crime, ranging from terrorism and violent crime to sexual exploitation of children and cybercrime. The number of mutual legal assistance requests seeking electronic evidence from the U.S. has increased dramatically in recent years, the DOJ says on the Act, straining resources and slowing response times.  Foreign authorities have relatedly expressed a need for increased speed in obtaining this evidence.

The CLOUD Act Agreement enables authorities in each country to obtain certain electronic data more efficiently from communications service providers operating in the other’s jurisdiction, thereby significantly reducing the time taken to obtain information relevant to ongoing investigations. The agreement also includes strong protections for the rule of law, privacy and civil liberties.

“As we saw in Operation Ironside – known in the United States as Operation Trojan Shield – the Australian Federal Police and the FBI are already capable of smashing serious, organized crime networks using sophisticated digital techniques. By strengthening both nations’ ability to fight crime, and giving our law enforcement agencies more efficient access to evidence, we’re ensuring the safety, security and prosperity of our citizens,” Andrews said.