UNODC Promotes International Cooperation in Sharing Electronic Evidence With Global Partners

© UNODC

Vienna (Austria), 28 October 2020 — The online tactics of terrorist and organized crime groups evolve at an alarming rate, threatening the safety and security of both civilians and online service providers’ platforms.

What is left in their wake is a trail of electronic evidence used by criminal justice officials entrusted with responding at the national and international levels.

As part of its mandate, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) develops targeted technical tools to assist its partners in combating crime. The Practical Guide for Requesting Electronic Evidence Across Borders is one such tool: a step-by-step handbook for criminal justice officials to effectively obtain and utilize vital electronic evidence.

UNODC launched the Practical Guide in 2019 in response to the need for tools that enable officials to request electronic evidence from service providers and other jurisdictions with confidence.

Funded by the Government of Japan for a project on strengthening counter-terrorism capacities in Sri Lanka, UNODC responds to this continued global need for more and updated accurate tools that foster international cooperation and streamline the sharing and requesting of electronic evidence. After all, the electronic evidence ‘chain’ is only as strong as its weakest link. UNODC has now updated the Practical Guide, adding new sections that present solutions for overcoming challenges to admissibility and the presentation of electronic evidence and featuring practical case studies that address the ever-changing and increasingly complex scenarios that impact evidence collection and provision.

On 28 and 29 October 2020, the updated Practical Guide will be presented before more than 45 Member States, international and regional organizations and service providers during an online expert group meeting (EGM). The event will count on the presence of UNODC experts, representatives from the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and Europol officials, who will highlight the Guide’s new features — including an expanded service provider mapping feature and updated ‘Model Forms’ that can be used when requesting electronic evidence or initiating international cooperation efforts.

The virtual EGM will lead participants through the updates, while also opening the floor to feedback and suggestions; ensuring the tool remains relevant and useful.

UNODC and its partners are aware that issues extend beyond national criminal justice officials and also impact service-provider counterparts, who have an equally important role in conveying electronic evidence.

Service providers often face a set of challenges of their own: compliance to both the criminal justice and data protection regulations. And today, the balance between access to justice and individual privacy is more important than ever before.

“To combat terrorist and other organized criminal groups exploiting new technologies, it is critical that all stakeholders, both public and private, work together to help law enforcement catch up and keep up,” says Masood Karimipour, Chief of UNODC’s Terrorism Prevention Branch. “UNODC is supporting Member States and frontline responders in this fight.”

UNODC has collaborated with major service providers to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice officials. Clearly stating the necessity and the proportionality in their requests can make a difference on whether these are processed quickly or not, particularly in the context of voluntary and emergency disclosures.

However, while officials may be trained to send accurate requests for electronic evidence, if receiving service providers do not have the capacity to respond, ultimately no evidence will be provided.

Small and medium providers often need practical guidance, to help structure their internal policies and resources and better respond to ever-increasing law enforcement requests — while respecting individual privacy.

In response, UNODC has developed Practical Guidance to Assist Service Providers with Overseas Requests for Electronic Evidence. Compared to the original Practical Guide,this new technical tool features information that is primarily useful for service providers, supporting them in their interactions with Member States.

To ensure this service providers’ guidance becomes an accurate toolfor its eventual users, an online EGM is scheduled for 30 October 2020, where over 15 service providers will have the opportunity to review the first draft and provide comments based on their operational knowledge and experience.