The headquarters of Commerzbank AG are seen standing behind a European Union flag (EU) in Frankfurt, Germany (Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg)  

Tech Giants Face 6-Hour EU Deadline to Hand Over Key Terror Data

(Bloomberg) -- Technology companies could be ordered to release vital electronic data, such as emails and text messages, to law enforcement agencies in as little as six hours under proposed European Union rules aimed at speeding up access to electronic evidence on crimes such as terrorist plots.

Judges would get the right to directly request key data regardless of where it is stored, with a deadline to respond within 10 days, or six hours in case of an emergency, the European Commission said on Tuesday. The proposals are aimed at replacing an unwieldy system that too often slows down investigations due to the difficulties to access this data.

"While law enforcement authorities still work with cumbersome methods, criminals use fast and cutting-edge technology to operate,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said in a statement on Tuesday. “We need to equip law enforcement authorities with 21st century methods to tackle crime, just as criminals use 21st century methods to commit crime.”

Police investigations into the terror attacks in Belgium’s capital Brussels just over two years ago connected the main suspect to a cell involved in other European attacks, which the police suspected communicated mainly through email drafts. Under current rules, access to one particular email stored on a Microsoft Corp. server in Ireland would take about a year, by which time data risks being deleted, according to the commission.

“We cannot allow criminals and terrorists to exploit modern and electronic communication technologies to hide their criminal actions and evade justice,” Frans Timmermans, first vice-president at the commission said. The new plans would give authorities “unprecedented tools” to access electronic evidence “quickly, efficiently across borders.”

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