Repairing MLAT System Should be National Priority

Share |

For more than half a century, the United States’ bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) and related multilateral agreements with foreign governments have served as a trusted and reliable mechanism for law enforcement to gain cross-border assistance to pursue criminal investigations. But in recent years the system has started breaking down, and SIIA is stepping up its call for badly needed repairs.

Resource constraints have put a severe strain on the Department of Justice’s personnel and technological capabilities to efficiently process MLAT requests – at the same time that evidence requests from foreign governments has skyrocketed. The backlog now comprises more than 11,000 unanswered MLAT requests and more than 3,000 new requests were submitted in FY2014.

While this may seem to largely be a legal or foreign policy issue, it’s actually a significant business and economic problem.  DOJ’s inability to keep up has caused foreign governments to go around the MLAT process altogether, taking their demands directly to U.S. businesses. Companies are now in the nearly impossible position of trying to comply with foreign law enforcement requests while adhering to U.S. law. The breakdown in the MLAT process also leads to countries around the world pursuing data localization requirements, which threaten to fragment the internet.

SIIA has been vocal in expressing concern about this situation. Just today, we joined with several other business and technology organizations in calling on congressional leaders to approve increased funding to allow the Department of Justice to adequately handle its responsibilities under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs).

In the letter, SIIA, and 12 other organizations, call on Congress to approve the Department of Justice’s request for $32.1 million in dedicated FY 2016 funding.  We state that this level of funding will provide additional prosecutors, personnel and technology and is “…critical to rebuilding trust in the effectiveness of the U.S. MLAT process, while maintaining the rule of law around the world.” The letter urges leaders “to assign the highest priority to funding the urgently needed improvements in the MLAT process by fully supporting the requested $32.1 million in dedicated funding.

The organizations signing the letter are: Access Now, Application Developers Alliance, BSA – The Software Alliance, Center for Democracy and Technology, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Global Network Initiative, Information Technology Industry Council, Internet Association, Open Technology Institute, Software & Information Industry Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Council for International Business.

David David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy.