Cloud Computing in Higher Education and Research Institutions and the USA Patriot Act
42 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2012 Last revised: 13 Mar 2014
Date Written: November 27, 2012
Institutions have started to move their data and ICT operations into the cloud. It is becoming clear that this is leading to a decrease of overview and control over government access to data for law enforcement and national security purposes. This report looks at the possibilities for the U.S. government to obtain access to information in the cloud from Dutch institutions on the basis of U.S. law and on the basis of Dutch law and international co-operation. It concludes that the U.S. legal state of affairs implies that the transition towards the cloud has important negative consequences for the possibility to manage information confidentiality, information security and the privacy of European end users in relation to foreign governments.
The Patriot Act from 2001 has started to play a symbolic role in the public debate. It is one important element in a larger, complex and dynamic legal framework for access to data for law enforcement and national security purposes. In particular, the FISA Amendments Act provision for access to data of non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. enacted in 2008 deserves attention. The report describes this and other legal powers for the U.S. government to obtain data of non-U.S. persons located outside of the U.S. from cloud providers that fall under its jurisdiction. Such jurisdiction applies widely, namely to cloud services that conduct systematic business in the United States and is not dependent on the location where the data are stored, as is often assumed. For non-U.S. persons located outside of the U.S., constitutional protection is not applicable and the statutory safeguards are minimal.
In the Netherlands and across the EU, government agencies have legal powers to obtain access to cloud data as well. These provisions can also be be used to assist the U.S. government, when it does not have jurisdiction for instance, but they must stay within the constitutional safeguards set by national constitutions, the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter.
UPDATE (11.06.13): Recent leaks around the PRISM surveillance program of the National Security Agency seem to support that these legal possibilities are used in practice on a large scale. Therefore, the authors have decided to publish a draft of their update paper on SSRN under the title 'Obscured by Clouds or How to Address Governmental Access to Cloud Data from Abroad'. The analysis is updated and it includes regulatory and policy solutions to the current legal reality.
Keywords: cloud computing, privacy, information security, lawful access, Patriot Act, FISAA, ECPA
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