Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Picture: AAP
Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Picture: AAP

Australia, US data deal to fight crime

AUSTRALIA and the United States are to work closely to bolster law enforcement ties as the two countries separately co-operate on a probe examining whether US officials overstepped when they investigated Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and US Attorney-General William Barr began formal negotiations in Washington for an agreement that would enable police to get faster access to electronic evidence in the other country.

This includes US-owned technology platforms Google and Facebook, The Australian reports. US officials are also working on a similar agreement with the European Commission, according to the US Department of Justice.


Peter Dutton said the agreement would give authorities ‘direct access’ to communications from criminals. Picture: Gary Ramage
Peter Dutton said the agreement would give authorities ‘direct access’ to communications from criminals. Picture: Gary Ramage

Dutton told The Australian the agreement would give investigators "direct access to data critical for the disruption, prevention, investigation and prosecution of serious crime".

"Current access processes risk loss of evidence and unacceptable delays to criminal justice outcomes," Dutton added.

The agreement came as Barr and Trump have been pressing other governments to help out with a review of US law enforcementand intelligence agencies' actions as they investigated Trump's 2016 campaign for possible ties to Russia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he agreed to help out Barr with the inquiry when Trump called him in August.

The Justice Department did not say whether Barr and Dutton discussed the review.

Trump and his allies charge, without evidence, that the investigation was a politically motivated attempt to hurt his political prospects.

Democrats and some former US officials involved in the effort say the review is an attempt to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings that Trump's campaign welcomed Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election on his behalf.

Mueller's probe led to criminal convictions for several former Trump aides, but he ultimately concluded that there was notenough evidence to bring criminal conspiracy charges.

Mueller's investigation was triggered in part when a top Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, was allegedly told by Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Details of the conversation, which Papadopoulos denies, were passed to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Papadopoulos was later prosecuted by Mueller's office and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Barr travelled to Italy in September to discuss the probe with intelligence officials there, according to a source close to the matter.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Barr was focused on the actions of Joseph Misfud, a Maltese university professor who, according to Mueller's report, had contacts with Russian intelligence officials and told Papadopoulos about the compromising emails.