Google to propose international data access reform
Thu 22 Jun 2017
In a reversal from its previous stance on protecting access to data stored internationally, Google’s general counsel will propose a revision to data access regulations that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to access information from other countries.
The current regulations require law enforcement that the two governments, local and foreign, act as intermediaries that consider and approve data requests before a technology company can respond.
This process can take weeks or months and has generated concerns that criminal investigations are being impeded by forced compliance with outdated regulations.
Kent Walker, SVP and General Counsel at Google will present the technology giant’s proposal today at a DC think-tank with significant influence with the current administration.
The proposal from Google will provide data sharing without U.S. government permission with agencies in those countries that commit to basic privacy and human rights guidelines. This would be a reciprocal arrangement whereby overseas law enforcement can make data requests directly to U.S. tech companies, and U.S. law enforcement can make data requests directly to companies in foreign countries inside the agreement.
Streamlining this process is important to Google and to other tech companies that have fought for data protection in the past, in order to protect user privacy. However, law enforcement agencies, the companies involved and privacy advocates have come to recognize that the regulations that govern the cross-border sharing of data are cumbersome and slow. Mutual legal assistance treaties, as they are currently known, require a formal diplomatic request from one government to the other, and require the country where the data is stored to create a warrant before a company may release information.
To be effective, investigations often require a much shorter timeline, an issue that is only increasing in urgency as international acts of terrorism have brought the need for a fast response to the fore. In an interview, Walker said, “This couldn’t be a more urgent set of issues.”
While additional details were not released, it is expected that Google will ask that Congress codify the requirements for the types of data that can be included in requests, with different types of data given different consideration.
Google will also ask Congress to codify warrant requirements for data requests that involve content, such as the actual message found within an email.
This proposal is reflective of the recent discussions by the EU Commission, which has proposed similar updates to regulations governing data sharing between law enforcement agencies within the European Union. With three proposals under consideration to streamline data access, one is quite similar to Google’s proposal to the U.S. government. It, too, would allow the law enforcement agencies of member states to request data directly from the company responsible without involving the government in the request.