EU-US launch negotiations over access to electronic evidence

International talks on cross-border access to e-evidence is seen as necessary to track down dangerous criminals and terrorists

European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova

European Commission and US Department of Justice officials met to begin formal negotiations on an EU-US agreement to facilitate access to electronic evidence in criminal investigations. After a productive first discussion this week, an agreement was made on holding regular negotiating rounds with the view to concluding an agreement as quickly as possible. Progress will be reviewed at the next EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial in December.

"We are pleased that the Council adopted a mandate to authorise the Commission to negotiate an agreement with the United States on facilitating access to certain e-evidence, and that we have obtained authorisation to negotiate with the European Union," US Attorney General, William Barr commented on the occasion.

"This type of agreement can enhance public safety and national security by providing an improved and more rapid ability to identify and respond to criminal threats on both sides of the Atlantic, in a manner that assures respect for the rule of law, privacy, and civil liberties," he continued, adding that "the US is committed to working with the EU on this important issue."

European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova also issued a statement on the matter, saying that the launch of the negotiations marks an important step towards achieving an agreement between the two sides, which "will strengthen our security, while protecting the data privacy and procedural safeguards of our citizens."

Cross-border access to electronic evidence has been a regular point on recent EU-US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial meetings, most recently in Washington on 9 November 2018. The United States and the European Union agree on the importance for both law enforcement and judicial authorities of swift cross-border direct access to electronic evidence, as demonstrated by recent legislation approved or under examination in the United States and the EU.

This is highly important since electronic evidence is needed in around 85% of criminal investigations, and in two-thirds of these investigations there is a need to obtain evidence from online service providers based in another jurisdiction. Currently, the largest service providers have their headquarters in the United States. The number of requests to the main online service providers continues to increase and grew by 84% in the period 2013-2018.

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