Obtaining Electronic Evidence from Private Communications Service Providers (CSPs) in Counter-Terrorism and related Organized Crime Cross-Border Investigations

25 to 27 June 2019, Islamabad - UNODC's Country Office Pakistan (COPAK) and Terrorism Prevention Branch (TPB) conducted a national workshop on obtaining electronic evidence from private communications service providers (CSPs) in counter-terrorism and related organized crime cross-border investigations, held under the European Union (EU)-funded Pakistan's Action to Counter-Terrorism (PACT) project in Islamabad from 25 to 27 June 2019.

 In the opening statements, Mr. Syed Arslan, Officer-in-Charge, COPAK, thanked the EU for the generous funding received under the PACT project, a sentiment which was echoed by the other members of the panel. The Head of the Political Section of the EU, Mr. Franck-Olivier Roux, outlined how a strong justice system can contribute to effective counter-terrorism response in Pakistan and how the present workshop directly contributed to the goals of the PACT project.  Mr. Asif Saifullah Paracha, Member Policy, National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Pakistan, stressed that it is essential for the participants to utilize the new techniques they acquire to bring impact. Representatives of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of Pakistan both highlighted how cooperation at the national and international level is paramount in combatting terrorism. Mr. Ahmad Farooq, Director General of Counter-Terrorism MoFA, also reiterated that international cooperation is an important aspect and how the UNODC Practical Guide for Requesting Electronic Evidence Across Borders is a very useful tool for addressing the challenges in this regard, reiterating that participants must make sure to utilize this tool and others like it in their day-to-day work as well as train colleagues on its use wherever possible. In the final part of the opening session,Mr. Mian Waheed-ud-Din, Special Secretary of MoI, also commended the very timely initiative in assisting criminal justice practitioners in responding to the challenges they face regarding the current ease of communication.

The workshop was the first national-level event of its kind and brought together law enforcement officers, prosecutors and representatives of national Central Authorities, introducing them to the use of the Practical Guide in making requests for preservation, voluntary disclosure, emergency disclosure and mutual legal assistance (MLA) in terrorist and organized crime cases involving electronic evidence. The guide, developed under a joint global initiative of UNODC, the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), contains information to help identify steps at national level to gather, preserve and share electronic evidence with the overall aim to ensure efficiency in MLA practice, and includes a compilation of country-specific focal points, legal frameworks and practical requirements for police-to-police cooperation, direct contact with CSPs, as well as formal MLA cooperation. Throughout the workshop participants were also split into small groups to undertake practical scenario-based international cooperation exercises, led by a UNODC expert, which focused on enhancing capabilities in the preservation, requesting and receiving of electronic evidence from private CSPs.

The skills gained from the practical exercises were bolstered by specialized presentations delivered by representatives of the FBI, Facebook, Middlebury Institute, the United States (US) Department of Justice (DoJ) and the US District Court. Through these sessions, experts were able to: address specific issues faced by criminal justice officials in Pakistan in requesting preservation and disclosure (including emergency disclosure) of electronic evidence from CSPs, including the difference between 'urgency' and 'emergency'; provide, in detail, the particulars of the process undertaken by the US DoJ when reviewing and managing requests for MLA; encourage and explain best practices for informal police-to-police cooperation in cases involving electronic evidence between relevant agencies in Pakistan and their counterparts in the US; and highlight effective strategies and techniques for the use of open source intelligence in investigations using a real life case example.

During the final session, participants were invited to identify the key challenges they face moving forward and further capacity building and technical assistance needs in the area of electronic evidence preservation, acquisition and utilization. The needs highlighted include inviting a wider range of CSPs and social media representatives to future activities, continuing to utilize practical case exercises in the delivery of training and ensuring these are tailored to the specific challenges faced by criminal justice practitioners in Pakistan, the inclusion of judges (specifically designated cybercrime judges) as participants in forthcoming workshops and the delivery of sessions dedicated to emerging challenges such as virtualization, cloud computing and censors. UNODC will ensure to take these requests and comments into account when organizing future activities on the topic of electronic evidence and international cooperation. Participants also expressed their sincere gratitude for the Practical Guide and the workshop as a whole.