The CLOUD Act Explained (TL;DR: Goodbye, Privacy)4 Min Well Spent

Another year, another spending bill has passed through the U.S. House and Senate, and on March 23, 2018, it was signed into law. Being an IT company, we aren’t going to be talking about the massive amount of government spending that was just passed through. We are more concerned about a specific earmark within the 2,232-page behemoth. Called the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data, or CLOUD Act, the new law has the implications of eroding individual privacy protection around the world. The act amends the Stored Communications Act of 1986 and gives unelected American officials a lot of power over global digital privacy rights.

The CLOUD Act allows U.S. officials, and nations the U.S. permits, to increase their sources when they’re looking to obtain digital information that isn’t hosted in the United States. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and major tech companies supported the act, and with no resistance from Congress, the act included in the omnibus spending bill only a day after it was presented to legislators.

What Does the CLOUD Act Mean?

For the individual, this law is seemingly a major loss. Now governments from all around the world have fewer impediments when conducting criminal and civil investigations. The new law allows them access to see an individual’s personal information or their interpersonal communications with others. Traditionally, when foreign governments requested content information from U.S.-based technology companies, it wasn’t always a formality that the American companies would comply.
Since the U.S. deals with many nations, if information is requested by a foreign government, they would typically decide whether the nation that is requesting the data had a prior record of human rights abuses, and then decided whether they will put pressure on the company to comply with said government. In fact, the U.S. is a member of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), and largely dealt with them exclusively to avoid giving information that could put human lives at risk.

With Great Power Comes
Great Government Oversight

The passage of the CLOUD Act now allows the executive branch of the U.S. Government to determine who to share information with, and who it denies. The act significantly undoes the protections that were in place to ensure data and information could not be used as a negotiating tool by the executive branch. Without legislative and judicial oversight, a lot of power has been handed over to appointees in high-profile cabinet positions.

Now, U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies will have authoritative new tools at their disposal. Data can be seized for any purpose, without the need for a warrant. Before the CLOUD Act, law enforcement was required to get a warrant to seize digital information. In this new era, everyone’s private emails, messages, and social media activity are available for prosecutors to get their hands on.
Here is a short recap of the CLOUD Act. It will:

  • Enable foreign police to collect and wiretap people’s interpersonal communications without obtaining a warrant to do so.
  • Allows foreign nations to demand records saved and stored by American companies
  • Allows the U.S. President to enter “executive agreements” designed to help foreign police agencies obtain data regardless of that regime’s human rights record.
  • Allows foreign police to obtain and collect data without notifying the party.
  • Gives U.S. police the right to grab data anyplace, no matter where it is stored.

One organization that has criticized the new law is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In a public statement, they called it a “dangerous expansion of police snooping” and that it would “erode privacy protections around the globe.” They go on to state:

Legislation to protect the privacy of technology users from government snooping has long been overdue in the United States, but the CLOUD Act does the opposite, and privileges law enforcement at the expense of the people’s privacy. EFF strongly opposes the bill.

At IT Support Guys, we can’t say enough how important data privacy is. Unfortunately, that sentiment is not shared with many Senators or Representatives in Washington. To ensure data privacy, instituting data protections such as encryption is crucial.

To learn more and to schedule your free technology assessment, call IT Support Guys today at 855-4IT-GUYS (855-448-4897).

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Ben Jones

Ben Jones

Technical writer Living in Tampa, FL. Originally from Indiana. In my free time, I cook, play golf, stay active (either outside or at the gym) and patiently waiting for the next Star Wars movie.

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