Consider a burglary that takes place in Paris with a French suspect and a French victim. In investigating the crime, French law enforcement finds that the suspect was using a US-based email service, and the emails can only be retrieved from the United States.

Under the current regime, to access the emails, French law enforcement would need to make a mutual legal assistance treaty request from the French Minister of Justice to the U.S. Department of Justice. This request would need to show “probable cause” of a crime (the U.S. legal standard), even though the crime is connected to the U.S. only due to the physical location of the email server.  The average length of time to respond to a request is about 10 months.

The example shows how MLA issues increasingly arise even for routine criminal investigations. The need for MLA requests is even more pervasive for cybercrime, drug smuggling, money laundering, and other crimes where the criminal activity itself often crosses borders.