In a letter sent to congressional leaders this morning, the Software & Information Industry Association– the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries – joined with several other business and technology organizations in calling for increased funding to allow the Department of Justice to adequately handle its responsibilities under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs).
Improving the MLAT is a highly cost-effective way both to enhance law enforcement and to ensure the smooth flow of international trade, which is why it has been established as a top priority by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). Indeed, this is an investment worth making.
Why are MLATs important to begin with? They matter because they are the primary mechanism through which law enforcement agencies in different countries can collect evidence from each other. It is imperative that high standards are maintained in order to ensure due process. So, for example, the Department of Justice insists that foreign law enforcement agencies provide a probable cause justification for obtaining, say, an American citizen’s e-mail records. Foreign law enforcement authorities are also obliged to ensure that the procedural safeguards they have established to protect their citizens are respected when U.S. prosecutors seek evidence overseas. MLATs are a mechanism for vital international law enforcement cooperation, as well as for ensuring due process.
The increased funding makes possible quicker processing of MLAT requests while at the same time protecting individuals’ rights. Currently, it takes on average about a year to process an MLAT request. This is simply not acceptable. As the letter to the Congress notes: “With additional prosecutors, support personnel, and technology, the Department of Justice estimates it would narrow MLAT response times to a matter of weeks by the end of 2015.” The establishment of a more streamlined MLAT process also helps to address the European Commission’s call for action on rebuilding trust in EU-US data flows. The Commission’s Communication on rebuilding trust mentions the MLAT as an element in this effort.
The MLAT reform initiative is one more example of the Software & Information Industry Association’s (and other U.S. trade associations and companies) strong support for law enforcement and intelligence reform that protects the world from terrorist and law enforcement threats, as well as upholds fundamental values. Besides MLAT reform, SIIA once again urges Congress to approve Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) modernization reform, as well as for the international community to integrate the seven principles for surveillance that SIIA and the Information Technology Industry Council released on January 16, 2014.
Carl Schonander is Director of International Public Policy at SIIA.