March 23rd, 2018, was the date when the United States Congress passed another spending bill that could reduce individual privacy protection all over the globe. This bill included a provision called the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (or CLOUD) Act, which makes modifications to the Stored Communications Act of 1986 and supplies unelected American officials a significant amount of power over digital privacy rights.
Basically, this law means that United States officials and others involved with them could possibly receive digital information that is not hosted on their home turf. This law collected enormous support from both the U.S. Department of Justice and popular technology companies, prompting Congress to push it through.
So, What Does This Mean?
Essentially, this law represents a major loss for the individual. It’s now easier than ever to perform criminal and civil investigations. Part of this law also permits access to personal information and communication as well. Before the passing of this law, foreign governments would have to slog through the proper channels in order to access information from U.S.-based technology companies.
Obviously, these companies did not consent so easily. Due to the crowd of nations that the United States deals with on a regular basis, before submitting to a request for information from a foreign entity, there would be lots of discussion put into factors such as records of human rights abuses and other pressures placed on the organization to make the decision. As a member of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), the United States hesitates to supply any information that could put lives at risk, but the CLOUD Act has the potential to shake these responsibilities up.
In the wake of this new law, the executive branch of the United States government will be able to control who this information is shared and not shared with. In control of such decisions are U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Data can now be utilized as bargaining chips by the executive branch. Consequently, there has been a significant amount of power placed in the hands of appointees that have not necessarily been directly elected to positions of authority.
The United States and other law enforcement agencies around the world will have strong new ways to confiscate data for any purpose. Thus, the average user’s private messages via email or social media can now be seized and viewed without a search warrant. This places the personal information of so many users right in the crosshairs of people who now have a legal right to view it.
Listed below is a summary for what changes the CLOUD Act will lead to:
- Permits foreign police to gather and wiretap people’s interpersonal communications without requiring a warrant to do so.
- Enables foreign nations to demand records saved and stored by American companies.
- Enables the U.S. President to enter “executive agreements” constructed to help foreign police agencies obtain data regardless of that regime’s human rights record.
- Permits foreign police to acquire and collect data without alerting the party.
- Grants U.S. police the right to obtain data anyplace, no matter where it is stored.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has especially been opposed to this new law. They issued a public statement that deemed it a “dangerous expansion of police snooping” and that it would “erode privacy protections around the globe.” They further went on to declare:
“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 any act that reduces the privacy of any technology is going to be controversial. Where does your company stand?