SIRIUS 2023 report: Navigating the new era of obtaining electronic evidence

The latest SIRIUS publication outlines the experiences of EU authorities in retrieving electronic data held by foreign-based service providers, as well as their experiences in delivering data for the purpose of criminal investigations over the past year.

The report highlights a new frontier in electronic evidence

The EU Electronic Evidence legislative package, adopted in July 2023, marks a new era in obtaining electronic evidence, as it will enable competent authorities to issue legally binding orders directly to service providers offering services within the EU, regardless of their place of establishment. This move will help address issues regarding lengthy judicial procedures to obtain data across borders, as well as legal uncertainties surrounding practices of voluntary cooperation between competent authorities and service providers.

Furthermore, other new legal instruments, such as the Second Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime will introduce novel legal bases for direct cooperation between competent authorities and private entities. The EU Digital Services Act, which introduces standardised minimum requirements for orders to provide information under EU Member States’ national laws, also provides further tools and clarity for authorities in need of obtaining data across borders.

However, challenges persist. The report highlights the need for comprehensive preparation among all stakeholders. From law enforcement's perspective, social media platforms, messaging apps, and cryptocurrency exchanges are pivotal in investigations. While formal training on electronic evidence has been provided to officers, gaps in familiarity with the new legislation remain, emphasising the need for extensive training programs.

Judicial authorities face time-consuming hurdles when accessing data from foreign service providers, urging the need for enhanced legal powers and EU-wide legislative efforts to regulate data retention for the purposes of criminal investigations and proceedings. Service providers, on the other hand, grapple with authenticating requests and resource allocation, emphasising the benefits of centralisation of requests.

A strategic roadmap to navigate this new frontier in electronic evidence

Amidst the challenges posed by advancing technology and the expanding electronic landscape, the report provides recommendations for law enforcement and judicial authorities, as well as service providers, which serve as a strategic roadmap.

By strengthening capacity and mutual trust, law enforcement and judicial authorities can successfully navigate the complexities of electronic evidence. Collaborative efforts and shared solutions will pave the way for a more secure digital environment in the EU, as well as effective and efficient prosecutions. To prepare law enforcement and judicial authorities as well as service providers to successfully pioneer this new frontier of electronic evidence, it is imperative to raise awareness and provide training on those novel legal instruments so significant to this project.

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