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Australia and US sign CLOUD Act data-sharing deal to support criminal investigations

The legislation allows law enforcement to simplify the process of obtaining electronic data from another country

US Attorney General Merrick Garland and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews speak at a press conference at the US Department of Justice

Australia has signed an agreement with the United States that will make it easier for the two countries to access and exchange data for investigations of serious crime, such as terrorism, child sexual abuse, and ransomware attacks.

Known as the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, the legislation was passed in 2018 and allows law enforcement agencies to simplify the process of obtaining electronic data from communications service providers operating in another country.

This allows for authorities to reduce the time of gathering evidence in ongoing investigations, especially in time-critical scenarios such as terrorist attacks.

However, the CLOUD Act also promotes international collaboration in order to crack down on electronic data-driven crimes, including ransomware attacks and activities involving child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

Commenting on the announcement, US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said that the agreement will allow US and Australian governments to “more effectively counter serious crime, including terrorism, while adhering to the privacy and civil liberties values that we both share”.

Australian minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, praised the work of US and Australian authorities, which in June arrested hundreds of suspected criminals that were tricked into using an encrypted messaging app created by the FBI.

“As we saw in Operation Ironside – known in the United States as Operation Trojan Shield – the Australian Federal Police and the FBI are already capable of smashing serious, organised crime networks using sophisticated digital techniques,” said Andrews.

“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 added.

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Prior to being implemented, the CLOUD Act agreement between the US and Australia will now undergo Parliamentary and Congressional review processes in both countries.

The news of the agreement comes after the Australian government passed legislation in September granting extensive new surveillance powers to law enforcement agencies in the country. This includes allowing police to disrupt data by modifying, copying, adding, or deleting it and allow the AFP and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to collect intelligence from devices and networks.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has also suggested it may introduce a "more aggressive" cyber division in order to disrupt terrorism, drug importations, and CSAM distribution.

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