US Patriot and Freedom Acts threaten UK legal privilege – Barristers warned

US authorities could access legally privileged information held by barristers in England and Wales, the Bar Council has warned its members.

Guidance issued to all barristers in England and Wales, explains that the Patriot Act and other surveillance laws could allow US authorities to access confidential, legally privileged data held in the cloud and on external back up services which use computers owned by US corporations.

The warning, issued by the Bar Council IT panel, also advised barristers that such data may be accessed without their knowledge.

Jacqueline Reid, Chair of the Bar Council IT Panel said: “The USA Patriot Act and the USA Freedom Act confer considerable surveillance powers on US authorities. Barristers routinely retain legally privileged information relating to their clients, and they should be aware that these surveillance powers can place the confidentiality and security of this highly confidential information at risk.”

Barristers have been warned to:

·                  Check where legally privileged and confidential information is stored

·                  Check whether any company which stores professional information has US parentage, and if they could be subject to the provisions of the US Patriot Act, and

·                  Consider encrypting access to data placed on external servers.

The following note was sent to all practising barristers in England and Wales yesterday evening in BarTalk, the fortnightly publication for the profession.



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