In 2019, the US and UK governments signed the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Access to Electronic Data for the Purpose of Countering Serious Crime ("Data Access Agreement" / "DAA"), which will come into force on the 3rd of October 2022.

Significance and impact

Prior to the enforcement of the DAA, the US law prohibits US telecommunications services from directly sharing data with foreign governments. To obtain necessary information for investigations, the UK government has to undergo a lengthy and time-consuming "mutual legal assistance" process to access information held by US companies.

With the DAA in force, UK and US law enforcement agencies can directly request "vital data" held by telecommunications operators in one another's jurisdiction. This facilitates a more coordinated and efficient information-sharing between the two countries.

As a "first of its kind" agreement, the DAA seeks to protect citizens, safeguard national security and better combat serious transnational crimes, e.g. terrorism and child sexual abuse. According to a joint statement by the US and UK, the DAA also marks a "new era of co-operation" between the two governments, highlighting the "strength of the bond" between them.

Possible concerns

As the DAA will allow public authorities to better access information held by telecommunications operators (e.g. pictures and messages on social media), concerns might arise regarding its impact on human rights (e.g. right to privacy).

The Joint Statement states that the DAA will not compromise or erode human rights and freedoms. Democratic and civil liberties will be maintained as the DAA only permits the request of information by public authorities for the exclusive purpose of "preventing, detecting, investigating, or prosecuting" serious crimes. Moreover, such requests need to be compliant with the existing domestic obligations that the public authorities are bound by. The UK's use of the DAA will be overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO).

The US / UK Joint Statement can be accessed here, while the Data Access Agreement can be viewed here.

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