RSA 2016: Potential U.S., U.K. Data Deal Would Mean Fluid Data Transactions in Criminal Investigations

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a potential cooperative agreement between the United States and the British government that would provide a reciprocal framework for data sharing between both governments and private industry.

by / March 1, 2016
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch discussed changing cybersecurity threats at the 2016 RSA Conference in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a potential cooperative agreement between the United States and the British government during a talk focused on changing cybersecurity threats at the 2016 RSA Conference Tuesday afternoon.

While much of her speech and discussion with Bloomberg anchor Emily Chang fell to general issues in the space and the FBI’s legal fight to obtain information from the Apple iPhone belonging to to the December 2015 San Bernardino shooter, Lynch did unveil discussions that could pave the way for better information sharing between American companies and the British government.

As it stands, Lynch said, technology companies operating in both countries are often stuck when law enforcement in the United Kingdom orders data that cannot be handed over because of U.S. implications. Lynch said the ongoing discussion, which would need to be vetted by Congress before taking effect, would open the door to more fluid data transactions surrounding criminal investigations.

“This agreement that we are working on would release American companies from conflicting legal obligations in clearly and carefully defined circumstances,” she said. “It would help one of our oldest allies perform high-priority criminal investigations that keep its citizens safe and many of which, in this age of transnational crime and terrorism, would also further American interests.”

The negotiations stipulate the data could not pertain to Americans or people located within American borders, but would provide a reciprocal framework for data sharing between both governments and private industry. 

Lynch also touched on many of the challenges facing law enforcement and the private sector as they relate to cybersecurity and efforts to thwart violent extremism online.

As for the legal dispute between Apple and the federal government, Lynch said it has not deterred from productive conversations around cybersecurity. She called the dispute a “disagreement in a fundamental area,” but said it is a conversation that needs to be had.

“We live in such a digital age now that these issues have to be dealt with and have to be addressed, but I think it’s a great conversation to have,” Lynch said. “We know, devices are more and more the repository of all types of information and they are so essential to investigating and solving serious crimes. Having the inability to actually obtain evidence that could save lives is a real risk. Another issue we have to face is how are we going to decide these issues and essentially how are we going to determine the scope of what law enforcement can and can’t do? And those are other risks that I think have to be part of the national discussion."

Despite media reports and concerns voiced by Apple CEO Tim Cook, Lynch said the FBI is not interested in an all-access pass to smartphones, simply to access the information contained on those at the center of criminal investigations. She also noted that the legal conflict is a departure from the company’s past willingness to assist law enforcement.

“This has been going on for years and we have not had the parade of horribles that Apple is now asserting," she said. "What we’re asking you to do is to help us with this one device, but not to give the technology to us, they could keep it…”

The attorney general said she believes the use of device data is not dissimilar from other investigative searches, like homes, and should be well defined and carefully adhered to. 

As for her priorities moving forward to the end of her appointment, Lynch said she is committed to a concentration on protecting vulnerable people and thwarting human trafficking, improving law enforcement community relations and cybersecurity. 

“We’re focusing more obviously on national security and terrorism. As I mentioned earlier, the threat has changed, it has morphed, but the fact that America remains a target has not. We are, in fact, seeing new ways of targeting American interests here and overseas all the time,” she said. “When you think about the threats that we face to our intellectual property, to our infrastructure, as well as to the personal safety of every American, these are huge issues.”

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.