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The Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) regime—which consists of hundreds of bilateral and multilateral treaties that regulate government-to-government requests for user data—has struggled to keep up with the enormous number of requests for digital evidence arising from global Internet services. A report by the Global Network Initiative, “Data Beyond Borders: Mutual Legal Assistance in the Internet Age,” outlines key principles and specific reforms to drive a human rights-based approach to MLA reform for the twenty-first century.
“When mutual legal assistance does not function swiftly and fairly, governments resort to other tactics such as demanding data localization or attempting to apply their laws extraterritorially,” says report author Andrew K. Woods, assistant professor of law at the University of Kentucky. He added, “It is therefore critical that states work together to make mutual legal assistance more efficient and more protective of human rights. This is not an impossible task: states that are serious about reforming MLA can implement many of the most-urgent reforms in the next year.”
The report recommends that states work together to create a secure electronic system for managing MLA requests, increase staffing for MLA issues, and conduct thorough trainings at all levels of law enforcement to ensure that MLA requests are generated and processed as efficiently as possible and in a way that respects international human rights.