The United States Congress passed another spending bill that could potentially limit individual privacy protection on March 23rd, 2018. Including a provision called the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (or CLOUD) Act, this changes the Stored Communications Act of 1986 and lets unelected American officials a specific amount of power over digital privacy rights.
This means that U.S. officials and other people who are involved with them could obtain digital information that isn’t even hosted on their home turf. With major technology companies and the U.S. Department of Justice pushing for it, Congress passed it quickly.
What Is The CLOUD Act?
This law, at a glance, represents a significant loss for an individual. It is way easier now to conduct civil and criminal investigations. This law also allows access to personal communication and information as well. Before the passing of this law, foreign governments have proper channels to access information from any U.S.-based tech companies.
While these companies wouldn’t necessarily consent this easily, the United States deals with a multitude of nations of the daily and there might not be much thought put into records of human rights abuses and other pressures placed on companies. The US is hesitant to provide information that could place anyone at risk, due to being a member of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty or MLAT but this CLOUD Act could shake things up.
This new law makes it so that the executive branch of the United States government is the one in control of who the information is shared (and is not shared) with. Data can basically be used as bargaining chips by the executive branch, which gives a lot of power placed in the hands of those who were elected as authority figures.
For an express purpose, the US and other law enforcement agencies will have new powerful ways to seize data. Your private messages, emails, or social media interactions can be confiscated and looked up without even as much as a search warrant.
Here are some major changes the CLOUD Act will bring:
- People’s interpersonal communications can be wiretapped or collected by foreign police with a search warrant.
- American company’s records can be demanded, stored, and saved by foreign nations.
- Executive agreements designed to help foreign police agencies gain data without considering human rights can be entered by the U.S. President.
- Without notifying the party, data can be obtained and collected by foreign police agencies.
- No matter where it is stored, U.S. police can grab data from anywhere.
A major opponent of this law, The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement saying it is a “dangerous expansion of police snooping” and that it would “erode privacy protections around the globe” and “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.”
Obviously, bills related to privacy and technology are controversial topics. What are your thoughts?