EU plans to increase access to electronic evidence in court cases

In recent years, the EU has rolled out several new initiatives in response to the threat of attacks across Europe. These initiatives include improving security features of ID cards used in the Schengen area and the use of fingerprints and facial recognition for those travelling. Now, according to the latest statement from the commission, the EU plans to increase the access it has to electronic evidence from technology companies.

Under the commission’s new plans, tech companies would be obliged to share communications made by terror suspects by email, text, messages in apps and all other forms of communications. The transnational European production order would also entitle judges from member states to request evidence from service providers when they are based in another European country.

The current regulations allow companies between 120 days and 10 months to supply this information, depending on the type of court case they are dealing with. The changes would mean that information will need to be provided to the court within 10 days instead. In some emergency cases however, the services providers could have as little as six hours to produce and supply the information requested by the court.

In addition to this, the commission wants to give law enforcement authorities access to other information. This would include bank account information, which it hopes will limit the financing of terrorist groups across the EU. It would also remove the right of tech companies to delete certain types of data, and would require them to hold onto it for a certain amount of time.

Although campaign groups, including the European Digital Rights group have warned that these proposals could threaten the rights of citizens, the commission has insisted that the measures are necessary to protect the public. They also said that these rules would only be used in the most serious cases where there is a major risk to the safety of citizens.

More than half of all criminal investigations include a cross-border request to obtain electronic evidence, the commission said. The current ways to obtain such data were said to be “much too slow and cumbersome”. Almost two-thirds of crimes where electronic evidence is held in another country cannot be properly investigated or prosecuted, officials added.

Frans Timmermans, the European commission’s vice-president, said: “Electronic evidence is increasingly important in criminal proceedings. We cannot allow criminals and terrorists to exploit modern and electronic communication technologies to hide their criminal actions and evade justice. There must be no hiding place for criminals and terrorists in Europe, online or offline. Today’s proposals will put in place unprecedented tools enabling the competent authorities not only to gather electronic evidence quickly and efficiently across borders but also ensuring robust safeguards for the rights and freedoms of all affected.”

Julian King, the UK’s European commissioner, responsible for security, added: “By giving law enforcement access to crucial pieces of financial information, we are closing another loophole being exploited by terrorists, and hitting them where it hurts – their finances.”

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