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Professor Authors Global Network Initiative Report on Legal Assistance in Internet Era

Andrew Woods

By Whitney Harder:
Andrew K. Woods, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, has written a report released this week by the Global Network Initiative (GNI), titled "Data Beyond Borders: Mutual Legal Assistance in the Internet Era." Woods also presented the report on Wednesday to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The report, evaluating legal and policy reforms to manage the growing demand of government-to-government requests for user data, was commissioned by the GNI to offer an approach to improve the mutual legal assistance system.

The Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) regime, consisting of hundreds of bilateral and multilateral treaties that regulate government-to-government requests for user data, has struggled to keep up with the enormous number of requests for digital evidence arising from global Internet services, according to a GNI news release.

In his report, Woods proposes three reforms to be implemented immediately: an electronic system for submitting, managing and responding to MLA requests educating government officials on what can be lawfully accessed through the MLA regime and outside of it and increasing MLA staffing to deal with growing requests. Woods focuses on justified and proportional access, human rights protections, transparency, efficiency and scalability as requirements for the reforms.

"States must work together to create a secure electronic system for managing MLA requests they must increase their staffing for MLA issues and they must conduct thorough training at all levels of law enforcement to ensure that MLA requests are generated and processed as efficiently and securely as possible and in a way that respects international human rights.

"Over the longer term, a number of more significant reforms may be necessary, but these are three reforms that states can implement in the next year and that could have a significant positive impact on the functioning of the MLA regime," wrote Woods in the report.

An assistant professor of law at the UK College of Law, Woods specializes in international law, contracts and corporations. Before joining the faculty at UK, he was a postdoctoral cybersecurity fellow at Stanford, at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.