British authorities are negotiating a deal with the U.S. that will allow them to directly serve wiretap warrants on U.S. communications companies in criminal and national security inquiries, U.S. officials have confirmed.
The new wiretapping powers will give agencies such as GCHQ the ability to monitor live communications of British suspects.
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Under the proposed plan, British authorities would not have access to records of U.S. citizens if they emerged in the British investigations.
Congressional approval would be required of any deal negotiated by the two countries.
One of the U.S. officials said the talks were necessary because of the increasing immediacy of developing criminal enterprises and potential terror plots that are playing out on various communications platforms around the globe.
The official said the talks have sought to preserve privacy protections that have been at the center of the recent U.S. debate over access to Americans’ telephone records that were part of a formerly secret program disclosed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“These communications are happening with the speed of light, and law enforcement agencies need to keep pace with these communications,” the official said.
A separate official said that any agreement also would be designed to provide equal benefits for U.S. law enforcement and national security authorities in U.S. investigations.
“Such an agreement would ensure U.S. access to data stored in the United Kingdom in support of law enforcement, terrorism, and other transnational threat investigations and support our partners’ ability to investigate serious crime, as well as terrorism and other transnational threats on a reciprocal basis,” that official said.