Cloud Act: Australia, US signs pact to facilitate investigations of serious crimes

Law enforcement agencies in Australia and the United States have agreed to share information about criminal suspects more quickly with digital companies, including social media giants.

Under the US Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (Cloud) Act, Australian and US law enforcement authorities will be able to use current warrants to obtain information from firms based in other countries in order to prevent, detect, investigate, and punish serious crime.

The agreement permits authorities to make data requests from communications service providers operating in the other’s jurisdiction, cutting down on the time it takes to receive information.

It means that corporations including email providers, telecommunications companies, social media platforms, and cloud storage services may soon find themselves responding to orders issued by law enforcement agencies in the United States or Australia rather than their home jurisdiction.

Questions remain regarding the deal’s practical ramifications, given the trend toward data encryption that keeps data out of the hands of digital corporations, such as Facebook’s deployment of end-to-end encryption for its WhatsApp users.

Peter Dutton, the former home affairs minister, openly urged Facebook in October 2019 to stop implementing encryption, claiming that it would put users’ messages out of reach of authorities “even with a court-ordered warrant.”

People “have the right to have a private communication online,” according to Facebook, and the Cloud Act “allows corporations to reveal available information in response to valid legal requests [but] does not require companies to install backdoors.”

Karen Andrews, Australia’s home affairs minister, said the Cloud Act deal contained “essential safeguards” that reflected the two countries’ “respect for the rule of law and human rights.”

“As we witnessed in Operation Ironside,” Andrews said in a statement, “the Australian federal police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are already capable of dismantling significant, organised crime networks using modern digital tools.”

“With this arrangement, the collaboration reaches new heights.”

The agreement would allow “more efficient cross-border transfers of data… so that our governments can more effectively address serious crime, including terrorism, while adhering to the privacy and civil liberties values that we both cherish,” according to US Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Andrews, who is now in Washington, has indicated that she will meet with senior authorities and law enforcement partners to address cybersecurity, vital infrastructure protection, terrorism countermeasures, and the prevention of severe and organised crime.

In both nations, the Cloud Act agreement will now be subjected to parliamentary and congressional assessment.

There is no need for additional legislation because the foreign production orders bill passed in July paved the path for the agreement, though parliament can still reject it.

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