Up­date laws on data ac­cess, says Google

The Star Early Edition - - MARKETS - Reuters

AL­PHA­BET’S Google was to press US law­mak­ers yes­ter­day to up­date laws on how gov­ern­ments ac­cess cus­tomer data stored on servers lo­cated in other coun­tries, hop­ing to ad­dress a mount­ing con­cern for both law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and Sil­i­con Val­ley.

The push comes amid grow­ing le­gal un­cer­tainty, both in the US and across the globe, about how tech­nol­ogy firms must com­ply with gov­ern­ment re­quests for for­eign-held data. That has raised alarm that crim­i­nal and ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions are be­ing hin­dered by out­dated laws that make the cur­rent process for shar­ing in­for­ma­tion slow and bur­den­some.

Kent Walker, Google’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel, will an­nounce the com­pany’s frame­work dur­ing a speech in Washington, at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tive think tank that wields in­flu­ence in the Trump White House and Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress. The speech urges Congress to up­date a decades-old elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions law and fol­lows sim­i­lar ef­forts by Mi­crosoft.

Both com­pa­nies had pre­vi­ously ob­jected in court to US law en­force­ment ef­forts to use do­mes­tic search war­rants for data held overseas, be­cause the prac­tice could erode user pri­vacy. But the tech in­dus­try and pri­vacy ad­vo­cates have also ad­mit­ted that the cur­rent rules for ap­pro­pri­ate cross-bor­der data re­quests are un­ten­able.

Re­quest data

The Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia-based com­pany calls for al­low­ing coun­tries that com­mit to base­line pri­vacy, hu­man rights and due process prin­ci­ples to di­rectly re­quest data from US providers with­out the need to con­sult the US gov­ern­ment as an in­ter­me­di­ary. It is in­tended to be re­cip­ro­cal.

Coun­tries that do not ad­here to the stan­dards, such as an op­pres­sive regime, would not be el­i­gi­ble. Google did not de­tail spe­cific base­line prin­ci­ples in its frame­work.

“This couldn’t be a more ur­gent set of is­sues,” Walker said, not­ing that re­cent acts of ter­ror­ism in Europe un­der­scored the need to move quickly.

Cur­rent agree­ments that al­low law en­force­ment ac­cess to data stored overseas, known as mu­tual le­gal as­sis­tance treaties, in­volve a for­mal diplo­matic re­quest for data and re­quire the host coun­try to ob­tain a war­rant on be­half of the re­quest­ing coun­try. That can of­ten take sev­eral months.

In Jan­uary, a di­vided fed­eral ap­peals court re­fused to re­con­sider its de­ci­sion from last year that said the US gov­ern­ment could not force Mi­crosoft or other com­pa­nies to hand over cus­tomer data stored abroad un­der a do­mes­tic war­rant.

The US Jus­tice Depart­ment has un­til mid­night to­day to ap­peal that de­ci­sion to the Supreme Court.

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