The Global Network Initiative (GNI) released a report last month calling on states to work together and create a secure electronic system for managing Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests.
The report titled, “Data Beyond Borders: Mutual Legal Assistance in the Internet Era,” outlines key principles and specific reforms to drive a human rights-based approach to mutual legal assistance reform for the twenty-first century. The report offers reforms that could manage rising number of law enforcement request for user data.
The report was prompted by the MLA regime which consists of hundreds of bilateral and multilateral treaties that regulate government-to-government requests for user data—and its struggles to keep up with the multitude of requests for digital evidence arising from global Internet services.
Report author Andrew K. Woods, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College, recommends three reforms that would be implemented immediately. They are: an electronic system for submitting, managing and responding to MLA requests; educating government officials on what can be lawfully accessed through the MLA regime and outside of it; and increasing the staff capacity of MLA to deal with growing requests. Woods focuses on justified and proportional access, human rights protections, transparency, efficiency and scalability as requirements for the reforms.
The author said that, “When mutual legal assistance does not function swiftly and fairly, governments resort to other tactics such as demanding data localization or attempting to apply their laws extraterritorially.” He also added “It is therefore critical that states work together to make mutual legal assistance more efficient and more protective of human rights. This is not an impossible task: states that are serious about reforming MLA can implement many of the most-urgent reforms in the next year.”
The GNI Policy and Communications Director, David Sullivan in his comments on the report stated that “this report offers a mutually beneficial approach to mutual legal assistance reform, Internet users, companies, and law enforcement officials would all benefit from a robust, principled, and transparent system for managing lawful requests across jurisdictions.”