Here’s What You Need to Know About the CLOUD Act

The recent Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal was something that left people reeling. It left people scared about the data they have online and now there is news of new legislation that could potentially have even greater implications. Here’s what you need to know about the CLOUD Act.

With no song and dance or big media release, the United States government has passed a new piece of legislation called the CLOUD Act. This is an acronym for the Clarifying Overseas Use of Data. There are already a series of laws in place that is intended as a means of regulating how United States enforcement officials access data that is stored overseas. This series of laws is called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the CLOUD Act is an update to this.

Prior to the introduction of the new law last week, United States officials had only limited access to overseas data. Any access was done via the mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs). This involved two nations, or more, helping each other with legal investigations by putting it into writing. For the agreement to go ahead, it must receive a two-thirds approval rate when it goes to the Senate for voting.

Now, the Cloud Act offers an alternative to the MLATs. It allows any level of United States law enforcement official to force technology companies to give them the data they need for an investigation, regardless of whether the company stores the data domestically or abroad.

Another aspect of the CLOUD Act is that the executive branch can also have executive agreements with other nations. This allows both nations in the agreement to have access to each other’s data, regardless of the privacy laws of the nations within the agreement. Approval from the Congress is not required for such agreements.

The CLOUD Act was first introduced on February 6 to the House of Representatives and the Senate by politicians. However, they did not vote on it as legislation in its own right. Instead, to keep the government open, they created it into a catch-all bill worth $1.3 trillion. As a result of the larger bill being passed, it means that all the measures listed within it also pass.

At this point, you may be wondering why any of this matters to the layperson. Well, it actually means that who can have access to your data is in the hands of the executive branch as they have a lot more control over this situation now than they did previously.

The best way of understanding this is to put it into an example. Think of a situation where Canadian officials wanted access to your data. Instead of wasting time and money for both governments by sending every request via the United States government, they can now enter into an agreement with the Attorney General, the State Department or the United States President. This will give them the right to directly contact various technology companies who may store your data, such as Facebook or Google.

Although there are many saying that this new act is a danger to your data, there is also the opposing argument that it could keep the citizens of America safer. A report conducted in 2013 found that MLAT requests can take as long as ten months to complete. By this time, the data they have access to may be obsolete. The CLOUD Act allows officials to access data much quicker and this gives them the opportunity to prevent crimes from taking place or to prosecute criminals quickly.

The trade-off for this improved crime-fighting is the protection of your digital privacy. The legislators have argued that people’s digital privacy is not as important as the safety of the citizens of the United States.

Like all legislation passed in the United States, there are pros and cons to the CLOUD Act. With this in mind, it will have both its supporters and its opposers. Only time will tell if it is effective at achieving what it is intended to and how much it will invade people’s digital privacy. Of course, United States citizens have already experienced what happens when officials put security as a priority over privacy. From experience, people could argue that it is not a situation that makes them feel any safer.


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