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techUK Responds to Sir Nigel Sheinwald's Summary of Work to Date

techUK backs Sheinwald's recommendation for a new international framework for data sharing between nations.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on Law Enforcement Data Sharing, last week released a summary of his work to date since his appointment in September 2014.

In his capacity as the Special Envoy, Sheinwald had been working with foreign Governments and US Communication Service Providers (CSPs) in order to, amongst other things, improve access to communications data for intelligence purposes across different and, at times, conflicting legal jurisdictions.

After submitting his classified report to the Prime Minister earlier this year, Sheinwald's summary of activities is intended to give an insight into his plans for a long-term, international arrangement to solve the problem of data sharing between nations.

In his summary, Sheinwald has called for:

  • Improved Government to Government co-operation: Sheinwald's review has recommended that, where threats are often shared, like-minded democratic countries should work together to address barriers to lawful disclosure of data across jurisdictions. Such a recommendation would be helpful to overseas CSPs and sets out a clear action for governments to improve co-operation.
  • Reforming the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) Process: techUK, in our policy positions on this issue, have consistently argued that the MLAT process is in need of reform. Sheinwald's summary acknowledges the same and highlighted the fact that the process needs modernisation and more resources to respond to increased demand. He has therefore called for a series of reforms to the UK's MLAT with the US "including standardisation of processes, training and improved guidance". techUK believes that this sets out a more sustainable solution for the longer term which unilateral assertions of UK jurisdiction cannot provide.
  • Building a New International Framework: As endorsed by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, and supported by techUK, Sheinwald also states the need for the building of a new international framework for cooperation between jurisdictions. Sheinwald adds that this new framework should meet high standards of transparency, oversight and privacy protection. This recommendation is key in that it recognises that CSPs based abroad face irreconcilable conflicts of law that cannot be resolved without intervention by foreign governments. It sets out a path towards greater legal clarity for companies and for consumers.
  • Greater Transparency: techUK have long argued that CSPs take their national security responsibilities seriously but that, in order to rebuild trust after the Snowden leaks, the Government needs to address concerns around the number and nature of requests CSPs receive from the authorities. Sheinwald's recommendation that government should do more to be transparent about international legal frameworks and their use echoes our views.

In summary, Sheinwald's summary is to be welcomed, reinforcing many of the calls that techUK have made in the past. On this issue, government and industry have a shared goal to deliver legal clarity and certainty going forward. It is not a question of making things 'easier' or bypassing due legal process, rather defining new front doors that can be clearly articulated and inspire public confidence.

Both Sheinwald and Anderson have made well-thought-through and workable recommendations. It will take effort and resources to deliver these ambitious goals but it is the only sustainable way forward to address the complexities of gaps and conflicts of laws. It is in everyone's interests that these recommendations are quickly endorsed by government and that steps are taken to initiate discussions with like minded countries as soon as possible.

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