Australia and the US have signed an agreement for a bilateral data-swapping program between the two countries for criminal investigations.
Falling under the US’ Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, which passed US Congress in 2018, the agreement enables Australian and US law enforcement agencies to access data about “serious” crimes from communications services providers in the other’s jurisdiction.
In this case, "serious" crimes include child sexual abuse, ransomware attacks, terrorism and the sabotage of critical infrastructure over the internet, according to the governments of the US and Australia.
It also grants protections for the rule of law, privacy and civil liberties, both countries claim.
Australia's Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, said previous operations held by the two countries, such as the organised crime-focused Operation Ironside, have shown that both the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “are already capable of smashing serious, organised crime networks using sophisticated digital techniques”.
“By strengthening both nations’ ability to fight crime, and giving our law enforcement agencies more efficient access to evidence, we’re ensuring the safety, security and prosperity of our citizens,” she said.
Meanwhile, US Attorney General Merrick Garland added the agreement establishes a pathway for “more efficient” means of transferring data between the two countries.
After signing the agreement, the CLOUD Act will receive Parliamentary and Congressional review processes in Australia and the US, respectively.
The two countries first entered formal discussions to enact the agreement back in October 2019 and was set to be backed up by then-unknown Australian legislation.
This turned out to be the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Act 2021, which was introduced as a Bill in March 2020 and passed both houses in July 2021.