If U.S. and British negotiators have their way, MI5, the British domestic security service, could one day go directly to American companies such as Facebook or Google with a wiretap order for the online chats of British suspects in a counterterrorism investigation.
The transatlantic allies have quietly begun negotiations this month on an agreement that would enable the British government to serve wiretap orders directly on U.S. communication firms for live intercepts in criminal and national security investigations involving its own citizens. Britain would also be able to serve orders to obtain stored data, such as emails.
The previously undisclosed talks are driven by what the two sides and tech firms say is an untenable situation in which foreign governments such as Britain cannot quickly obtain data for domestic probes because it happens to be held by companies in the United States. The issue highlights how digital data increasingly ignores national borders, creating vexing challenges for national security and public safety, and new concerns about privacy.
The two countries recently concluded a draft negotiating document, which will serve as the basis for the talks. The text has not been made public, but a copy was reviewed by The Washington Post.