Data in the “Cloud” Needs Fourth Amendment ProtectionMay 30, 2011
“Cloud computing” is the term for applications that are handled by third-party software and storage on the Internet, like Google Docs and QuickBooks Online, as opposed to programs like Microsoft Word and Quicken, which you load and access from your PC.
Gmail and Hotmail were early examples of cloud computing. The cloud computing concept has since expanded to include popular applications like photo editing and sharing, money management and social networking. It also takes in the increasing number of cloud-based storage services, like Dropbox, which allows you to port documents from client to client, and Carbonite, which performs near real-time back-up of data and documents on your PC.
What most Americans don’t realize is that data stored in the cloud is not protected by the Fourth Amendment the way that same data is if stored on a PC, CD or detachable hard drive in the home. A new bill in Congress, S.1011, introduced last week by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), as a big step toward closing this loophole. S.1011, also cited by Berin here, extends the due process provisions against illegal wiretapping in the existing Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to personal data stored in data centers owned and operated by third parties.