Tech companies like Facebook should hand over account passwords within minutes of approval being granted, the head of the Met Police has said.
Cressida Dick told LBC that police forces currently have a “very protracted procedure” to obtain information from social media giants.
She was being questioned after a man who is suspected of murdering teenager Lucy McHugh was jailed for refusing to hand over his Facebook password to officers.
The body of the 13-year-old was found in woodland at Southampton Sports Centre in July. She had been stabbed to death.
Stephen Nicholson, 24, had been questioned on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child but was released on police bail.
On Friday, he was jailed for 14 months over his refusal to hand over the password to his Facebook account.
When LBC presenter Nick Ferrari asked her whether detectives should be able to be given access to an account within minutes, Ms Dick said: “Absolutely. I absolutely think that in certain instances, and it sounds like this is one, law enforcement in the UK ought to have vital evidence which might bring someone to justice.
“There are complex and practical things for them, and legal things, which I do respect. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, but I think that’s where we should be.”
It came after Lucy’s mother demanded Facebook give detectives access to Nicholson’s account.
Stacey White said that, if police were granted access to the account, they could uncover important information about what happened to her daughter.
Ms White told the Daily Mail that unlocking the account would “certainly give police an idea of what was being said between Lucy and Stephen”.
Detectives want to read messages sent and received by Nicholson before the teenager’s body was discovered.
As Nicholson has refused to provide police with the login information, police must battle in the US courts to gain control of the account.
Ms White said: “In situations like this, Facebook really should just release the information that is needed and I think that is the opinion that everybody has.
“They should give over the account details. Lucy needs justice. It’s so easy for them to do.”
Nicholson, a father of one, was staying at Lucy’s family home in Southampton until several days before her body was discovered.
Prosecutors believe he had contact with the teenager on the morning of her disappearance.
He twice refused to give his Facebook password while he was being questioned on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child.
Nicholson separately pleaded guilty to a charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) at Southampton Crown Court.
He told the court he was refusing access to his Facebook account because he wanted to protect himself and his family as there was information on there relating to cannabis.
Prosecutors said police were facing a “lengthy procedure” in order to obtain access and the investigation into Lucy’s death had been “considerably obstructed” as a result.
The delay has been branded “deeply disturbing” by the head of the Commons home affairs committee.
Yvette Cooper called on the government and Facebook to create a fast legal procedure for such cases.
“This was an appalling murder, and Lucy McHugh’s family need justice,” she told the Mail.
“For there to be such long delays and cumbersome international processes for getting crucial information in such a serious case is deeply disturbing.”
Hampshire Police said it has been in contact with Facebook direcly and asked it to preserve information in relevant accounts but, as a US company, there is no legal requirement under UK law to compel it to provide the access it has requested.
It said in a statement: “In the early stages of the investigation, we put in a request to Facebook to ‘preserve’ relevant accounts.
“This means that information on these accounts is saved up to the point of them being preserved. Enquiries are ongoing with Facebook about this issue.
Facebook has confirmed to Sky News it is working with Hampshire Police and has a dedicated team in the UK that works with law enforcement.
The process for requiring an American organisation to hand over details as part of a police investigation is carried out under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) scheme.
Insiders at the tech giant have told Sky News MLAT is too slow to allow the kind of speedy assistance the police often need and it has lobbied the relevant governments to reform the law on the scheme to allow it to provide content directly to officers on request.
Nicholson remains on bail for his arrest on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child.
A charging decision is anticipated on 27 October.