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WASHINGTON - The United States and the U.K. on Thursday signed an agreement, under a controversial new U.S. law, that will allow law enforcement agencies in the two countries to demand electronic data from tech companies for use in criminal and counterterrorism investigations.
The agreement is the first of its kind under the CLOUD Act, a law passed by Congress last year that has been severely criticized by some European countries for threatening privacy rights.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr and U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel signed the agreement at a ceremony at the British ambassador's residence in Washington.
"This agreement will enhance the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to fight serious crime - including terrorism, transnational organized crime and child exploitation - by allowing more efficient and effective access to data needed for quick-moving investigations," Barr said.
The CLOUD Act makes it easier and faster for law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and other countries to access electronic data outside their borders.
At the moment, it can take a law enforcement agency such as the FBI up to two years to acquire data from tech companies located overseas, according to the Justice Department.
The new U.S.-U.K. Bilateral Data Access Agreement dramatically will speed up the process "by removing legal barriers to timely and effective collection of electronic evidence," the Justice Department said.