Google has certainly been no stranger to legal demands as far as access to its onshore and offshore data is concerned. In fact, earlier this year, a US judge ordered the company to release foreign emails to support an FBI investigation, with Google preparing itself to fight the decision. In the meantime, investigative activities continue to be impacted by laws that are perceived to "hinder law enforcement and user privacy".
Now, in an attempt to kickstart the shake-up of aging electronics communications laws, Google senior vice president and general counsel, Ken Walker, announced his company's international framework to help facilitate cross-border requests for data. In what is designed to be reciprocal in nature, countries seeking data from service providers based in the US can do so without US government involvement so long as those participating countries agree to a set of "baseline privacy, human rights, and due process principles to gather evidence more quickly and efficiently."
The framework is also designed to eliminate the threat to user privacy as a result of countries trying to find a quick solution to their data gathering activities. As an example, some countries have asserted that their domestic laws also apply to entities physically located outside their jurisdiction in an attempt to get around the long waiting times associated with leveraging Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLAT). With the average waiting time standing at around 10 months to receive data via the MLAT route, Google identified the risk of companies in an 'untenable situation where we risk violating either the law of the requesting country or the law of the country where we are headquartered."
Despite various details remaining absent from the framework, such as the baseline principles, Walker indicated that countries that didn't agree with them would be ineligible to request data via the associated mechanisms. In acknowledgment of the massive task ahead, Google's general counsel also said:
"We know that this will be an involved process. It’ll require action here in Washington and in capitals around the world. However, we can’t accept the complexity of action as a reason for inaction in addressing an important and growing problem."
While a swift, universal agreement will be highly unlikely in the short term, it may foreshadow a future where international requests for data no longer make headlines as they do now.