The government’s ongoing threat to Internet freedom has been met with steadfast opposition in most quarters but a recent attempt by the Department of Justice to grab jurisdictional control of most cloud computing systems has been met with silence. Most activists are unaware of DOJ’s power play and congressional efforts to reverse what many believe is another governmental overreach that threatens both privacy and competitiveness.
The issue stems from a criminal investigation by the federal government into the actions of an Irish citizen who stored electronic material on a cloud computing system of an Irish company. Rather than live up to its treaty obligations by asking the Irish government to serve a warrant for the material in question, the DOJ, after discovering that the company was a subsidiary of Microsoft, served the Seattle-based company a warrant. Such action bypassed treaty obligations with Ireland and further erodes Internet privacy.
To protect customers’ privacy, Microsoft filed a lawsuit against the federal government but thus far to no avail. A New York District Court has sided with the government finding a simple domestic warrant is enough and this July the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court agreed. The Supreme Court has been asked to hear the case.
Congress, to its credit, is not awaiting an answer from the men and women in black and has stepped up with a proposal to establishes a framework to balance privacy ad the need for U.S. law enforcement gain access to electronic communications stored abroad.
The “Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad,” or LEADS Act would require government officials would get access to electronic data on the same basis as other material that’s held in non-electronic form. This means that for law enforcement to get access to data stored outside the U.S., the request must either use a mutual assistance treaty or it must belong to a U.S citizen. This is certainly a better option than what the DOJ demanding. Libertarian lawyer Bruce Fein has said, “Despite its imperfections, LEADS strengthens privacy protections for data about U.S. persons stored abroad. It is a constructive starting point for modernizing privacy law in a globalized environment.”
The LEADS Act is another step needed to curb the surveillance state and to force the federal government to respect the privacy rights of all Americans – whether they be in the U.S. or abroad.