Life, Liberty, and Data Privacy: The Global Cloud, the Criminally Accused, and Executive Versus Judicial Compulsory Process Powers

76 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2022 Last revised: 10 Jul 2023

See all articles by Rebecca Wexler

Rebecca Wexler

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law

Date Written: October 10, 2022


U.S. policymakers’ responses to a wave of global data privacy laws are creating a deep structural unfairness in the criminal legal system. In an era of cloud computing, when data about communications and activities occurring anywhere in the world can be stored on servers located anywhere else, access to such data can make the difference between convictions and acquittals. At the same time, new global data privacy laws risk cutting off cross-border access to digital evidence in criminal investigations. Recognizing the threat to law enforcement interests, U.S. policymakers enacted the CLOUD Act of 2018 to create special procedures for law enforcement to circumvent foreign data privacy laws and access cross-border evidence anyway. Yet no one is creating similar procedures for criminal defense investigators.

In the U.S. adversarial legal system, criminal defense counsel are the sole actors formally tasked with investigating evidence of innocence. While the prosecution team must disclose exculpatory evidence that it happens to possess, law enforcement officers have no formal duty to actively seek out such evidence. As a result, selectively advantaging law enforcement investigations of guilt without creating parallel procedures for the defense means selectively suppressing evidence of innocence. This asymmetry gets privacy backwards. Privacy protections ostensibly meant to constrain government power may accomplish that goal in an absolute sense, but relatively speaking, they specially empower the government as compared to the defense. They thereby undermine the criminal defense process that is itself supposed to guard against government abuse.

This Article exposes this structural anti-defendant bias in U.S. responses to global data privacy laws. It then uses this problem as a case study to examine the constitutionality of a more general category of laws: privacy laws that disadvantage criminal defense investigations as compared to their law enforcement counterparts. It diagnoses why constitutional challenges to these types of laws have failed in the past and proposes a novel definitional argument to strengthen these challenges moving forward. Ironically, the very CLOUD Act procedures that exclude defense investigators also hold a key to advocating on their behalf.

Suggested Citation

Wexler, Rebecca, Life, Liberty, and Data Privacy: The Global Cloud, the Criminally Accused, and Executive Versus Judicial Compulsory Process Powers (October 10, 2022). 101 Texas Law Review 1341 (2023), Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca Wexler (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law ( email )

691 Simon Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510 664 5258 (Phone)

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