Tech industry demands more money for evidence swaps

Eight major tech industry groups are demanding that congressional leaders allocate more money to deal with legal treaties that allow the U.S. to share evidence with other countries.

The Justice Department is under “a severe strain” to process requests from foreign countries, the groups wrote to Capitol Hill leaders on Monday, while the demand from abroad has grown.

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As a result, many foreign governments have tried to get digital evidence directly from American companies’ servers and computers, putting the tech companies in a legally tricky place where they could risk violating the law.

“We stand ready to help in any way possible to assist the Congress in taking a critical step needed to remove barriers preventing U.S. businesses from competing effectively in the global information economy,” the groups told leaders of the House and Senate and the congressional appropriations committees.

The letter was signed by the Information Technology Industry Council, Internet Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Software and Information Industry Association, Computer and Communications Industry Association, U.S. Council for International Business, BSA | The Software Alliance and the Application Developers Alliance. Together, the groups represent virtually every major tech company, including giants Google, Apple, Microsoft and IBM.

Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) allow the U.S. and foreign governments to hand each other evidence for criminal cases that may be in the hands of a foreign country. The process has proven especially useful for tech companies, who are often asked to hand over information about a foreign suspect’s messages, photos or other stored data.

Currently, however, requests for evidence from foreign governments can take months.

In its fiscal 2015 budget request, the Justice Department has asked for $24.1 million to cut the time it takes to process requests in half.

“We strongly support this request on behalf of our members and believe that it is critical to rebuilding trust in the effectiveness of the U.S. MLAT process, while maintaining the rule of law around the world,” the industry groups said.

The MLAT process is also at the center of Microsoft’s standoff with the Justice Department over data stored on a server in Ireland. In that instance, the Justice Department decided to avoid the process and instead demanding that Microsoft turn over the data itself, a demand which the company has fought back.