U.S. federal law enforcement has partnered with Australian officials to better investigate crimes like terrorism, ransomware attacks and child sexual abuse, primarily through electronic data.
Announced by the Justice Department on Wednesday, the transnational agreement is an extension of the U.S.’s Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data, or CLOUD Act. Passed in 2018, the law facilitates American and partnering foreign authorities’ access to electronic information that can help law enforcement investigate and prosecute crimes conducted digitally.
This latest partnership will help Australian and American law enforcement agencies obtain electronic data between both countries’ jurisdictions related to crimes in an efficient manner to “prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute serious crime,” the announcement states.
“This agreement paves the way for more efficient cross-border transfers of data between the United States and Australia so that our governments can more effectively counter serious crime, including terrorism, while adhering to the privacy and civil liberties values that we both share,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
A key caveat of the CLOUD Act is entering into partnerships and sharing data with countries that have similarly robust privacy laws as the U.S. law enforcement. Some of the features U.S. law enforcement will look for in partnering countries include solid legal oversight prior to accessing civilian data and restrictions on how this data is shared.
The CLOUD Act is modeled similarly to the Budapest Convention of 2001, where dozens of nations agreed to operate by a framework that promotes a free and accessible internet with protections of civil liberties while still promoting international cooperation on cybercrime investigations.
Along with Garland, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews applauded the joint effort, recalling the FBI’s Operation Trojan Shield––known as Operation Ironside in Australia––that tracked organized activity through encrypted communication devices, resulting in over 800 arrests.
“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,” Andrews said.
The CLOUD Act-based partnership is currently undergoing review by Congress and Australian Parliamentary.
U.S. law enforcement agencies have cracked down on ransomware attacks and other cyber offenses that threaten critical infrastructure, seen in the various ransomware hacks during summer 2021, where industries like the Colonial Oil Pipeline, the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry and, more recently, the Virginia State Assembly, all suffered ransomware attacks that interfered with operations.