The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act just passed – almost in secret – tucked deep inside a voluminous spending package of well over a trillion dollars. No debate. No up or down vote on the merits of CLOUD. Instead, lawmakers would have had to reject the entire bill, thousands of pages, and risk government shutdown, in order to mount any kind of opposition. CLOUD is a broadening of international law enforcement power when it comes to online activity, and the crypto community is worried.
Hey! You! Get Off My CLOUD!
Senator Orrin Hatch, President Pro Tempore of the US Senate, explained, “The CLOUD Act bridges the divide that sometimes exists between law enforcement and the tech sector by giving law enforcement the tools it needs to access data throughout the world while at the same time creating a commonsense framework to encourage international cooperation to resolve conflicts of law.”
It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for cryptocurrency privacy advocates. Revelations from notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden showed a long, consistent pattern of US government eavesdropping and tracking of bitcoiners in particular since at least 2013. Now, new US legislation smuggled into an2 omnibus spending bill appears to give government ever-more power in its ability to monitor online privacy.
On page 2,201 of a 2,232 page document finds S. 2383/H.R. 4943 Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data portion, commonly referred to as the CLOUD Act. It’s the combined brainchild of legal minds at Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Senator Orrin Hatch, 84, who has held his seat since 1977 (Star Wars opened, Jimmy Carter was president, and Atari 2600 was released).
A joint statement from all five companies reads, “The new Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act reflects a growing consensus in favor of protecting Internet users around the world and provides a logical solution for governing cross-border access to data. Introduction of this bipartisan legislation is an important step toward enhancing and protecting individual privacy rights, reducing international conflicts of law and keeping us all safer.”
EFF and ACLU See Further Intrusions and Worse
Companies such as Microsoft have been involved in privacy battles, and one of them has reached the US Supreme Court this year. The Court is mulling over whether Microsoft must give the Department of Justice (DOJ) data stored in Ireland. The case has been ongoing since 2013. It’s probably the case major tech companies want a uniform set of rules governing international compliance laws instead of litigating at every turn. Evidently these platforms feel the CLOUD Act is an optimum compromise between protecting privacy and necessary law enforcement access.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), however, is having exactly none of it. Referring to the legislation as A New Backdoor Around the Fourth Amendment, the EFF stresses the CLOUD Act fails “to require foreign law enforcement to seek individualized and prior judicial review. Grants real-time access and interception to foreign law enforcement without requiring the heightened warrant standards that U.S. police have to adhere to under the Wiretap Act. Fails to place adequate limits on the category and severity of crimes for this type of agreement. Fails to require notice on any level – to the person targeted, to the country where the person resides, and to the country where the data is stored.”
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released its own warning regarding CLOUD in conjunction with two dozen privacy-oriented organizations. Among “other things, the legislation would: Allow foreign governments to wiretap on U.S. soil under standards that do not comply with U.S. law; Give the executive branch the power to enter into foreign agreements without Congressional approval; Possibly facilitate foreign government access to information that is used to commit human rights abuses, like torture; and Allow foreign governments to obtain information that could pertain to individuals in the U.S. without meeting constitutional standards.”
Well-respected cryptocurrency luminary Andreas Antonopoulos urged, ““The CLOUD Act passed. It destroys privacy globally, so it had to be snuck into the $1.3 trillion omnibus without debate. Encrypt. Encrypt. Encrypt. Go Dark. When privacy is criminalized, only criminals have privacy. We got sold out, again.” Indeed, cryptography by definition is a privacy oriented pursuit. And so undoubtedly the quest for better privacy coins and encryption methods will continue with at least a little more urgency.
Does legislation like CLOUD worry you? Let us know in the comments!
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Author: C. Edward Kelso