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article imageGoogle proposes framework to let governments access overseas data

By James Walker     Jun 22, 2017 in Technology
Google has put forth a proposal to overhaul the laws surrounding the access of data held in overseas datacentres to aid criminal investigations. The company wants to pioneer a new legal framework that helps prosecutors while preserving personal privacy.
In a detailed blog post published today, Google explained that the current laws around evidence collecting in legal enquiries aren't suitable for use in the information age. Noting that law enforcement has been granted new powers with each revolution in communication – such as obtaining warrants to open letters – the company said that a new "fundamental realignment" is required to adapt the current system to the web.
Lately, the Internet companies behind the biggest cloud services have faced calls from foreign governments to release data for use in law enforcement. The providers have declined such requests, stating they are under no obligation to provide data stored in server farms outside the country that asked for the files.
Last year, Microsoft contested such a request, refusing to deny U.S. law enforcement access to data on an individual involved in a narcotics investigation. The relevant files were stored in the company's Dublin data centre. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the company's view that it did not need to provide the data, even though it is itself based in the U.S.
This and similar cases have started new debates around whether and how tech firms should comply with government requests to hand over data stored overseas. Google has devised a new framework that it believes could satisfy everyone involved. It would allow countries willing to commit to "baseline privacy, human rights, and due process principles" to quickly and efficiently access data for purposes of law enforcement.
The system would let involved nations directly request data from U.S. tech giants such as Microsoft and Google. The company wants archaic electronic communications legislation in the U.S. to be overhauled, allowing data requests to circumvent the government.
Google said it currently takes around 10 months for a foreign country to access data through established diplomatic processes under the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). While it hasn't stated what this would be reduced to under the proposed scheme, direct access to the tech firms is likely to deliver results much more quickly.
The agreements between compliant countries would ideally be two-way, giving the U.S. government access to foreign providers too. Google recognised that it's asking for "a lot of movement" from world governments but said the complex action required is "not a reason for inaction."
"We believe these reforms would not only help law enforcement conduct more effective investigations but also encourage countries to improve and align on privacy and due process standards," said Google. "Further, reducing the amount of time countries have to wait to gather evidence means would reduce the pressure to pursue more problematic ways of trying to gather data."
Google identified the "problematic ways" as the current assertions by some governments that they can extend their laws to cover digital data outside their borders. Others are suggesting web firms should be forced to store all data on their citizens within the country. This solution isn't practically feasible given the scale of the web. It would also prevent emerging start-up firms from gaining a worldwide presence.
Google said it's "ready to do our part" to start putting its proposed legal framework into action. The company invited legislators, regulators, academics and other tech firms to begin discussing how to overhaul the current system and implement a modern solution that's more effective on all fronts.
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