EU leader begins dialogue with Sessions on handling international data warrants

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A commissioner for the European Union says she and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions have begun a dialogue on how to better handle the murky world of international warrants for data.

“Today, access to digital evidence often provides the only lead in investigating or prosecuting crime. If access to evidence can be tricky at the national level, it’s even more so when the data is stored outside of the country,” EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová said at a talk Friday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is in legal battles with Microsoft and Google over whether a U.S. court can issue a warrant for information housed in an overseas data storage center without abiding by the laws of the country hosting the server.

Traditionally, to conduct search and seizure of evidence in a foreign country, U.S. law enforcement must ask a foreign government to carry out a warrant — usually through agreements known as mutual law enforcement assistance treaties.

{mosads}In the Microsoft and Google cases, courts have ruled in different ways on whether emails on a foreign data server are being searched and seized in the U.S. — where the company would access them from — or in foreign countries. The DOJ has repeatedly asked Congress to develop a better legal framework to handle this type of evidence gathering. 

For the companies operating on an international stage and for the countries interested in maintaining sovereignty or conducting investigations, it “raises many questions, from jurisdictional issues to the protection of personal data,” Jourová said.

Jourová said European nations were considering developing a single protocol for countries to apply for high-speed access to digital evidence anywhere on the continent. Speed is the main issue in cases involving enforcement treaties, which can often take months to years to produce evidence. 

The EU nations recognized a “growing consensus for a common approach that would also provide legal certainty for business,” said Jourová.

She also said she had discussed issues of data privacy and the U.S.-EU data transportation agreement known as Privacy Shield with Sessions.

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