The United States and Australia signed an agreement Wednesday to ease access by their justice departments to digital phone and email records needed in criminal investigations.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews said the agreement would allow both to obtain “timely access” to electronic information vital for serious crime investigations.
Coming under the US Cloud Act, the agreement will allow them to request and obtain suspects’ electronic communications from telecoms companies in the other country, without first going through a laborious process in the courts.
In effect, it means Australian investigators will be able to obtain the communications of a suspect even if they are held on a server located inside the United States and US justice authorities are not part of the investigation.
“The Cloud Act agreement between the United States and Australia will make our cooperation to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute serious crimes more effective, and in doing so, this agreement will help keep our citizens safer,” Garland said.
Andrews said the pact would enhance probes into terrorism, organized crime and child sexual abuse.
“Until now, Australian agencies have relied on complex and time-consuming mechanisms, such as mutual legal assistance agreements, to access crucial evidence from other countries,” she said.
“Investigations and prosecutions have stalled and even derailed as a result of these arrangements.”
Both officials stressed that rules of privacy and civil liberties would be followed, amid concerns that the Cloud Act is opening the door to unjustified searches of people’s private information not only by their own governments but by others as well.
“The agreement protects civil liberties, safeguards the privacy of our citizens and will ensure our own adherence to the rule of law,” Garland insisted.
The United States and Britain signed a similar deal in October 2019.