Is Cloud Computing a Threat to Consumer Rights?

Is Cloud Computing a Threat to Consumer Rights?

“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.”
- Bob Marley (1945-1981), Jamaican singer, composer and guitarist.

Civil rights form the base on which modern civilization stands; without rights for the individual, no nation can flourish. The Founding Fathers realized this and hence passed the Bill of Rights, a series of ten amendments that placed limitations on the power of the government, protecting the natural rights of liberty and property including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms.

Now, there are some who believe that cloud computing can pose a threat to civil rights, especially in conjunction with the Patriot Act. For those of you who do not know, the word “Patriot” in this case is actually an acronym; the full form of USA PATRIOT stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”

Now, according to this Act, a government agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may issue a subpoena to a cloud computing service provider for data on a consumer, and the provider cannot inform the consumer about it as per the law; if it does, it’s a federal crime.

However, if the FBI wanted to search the consumer’s office premises, the latter’s rights would be somewhat protected by the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In other words, using cloud computing can place you at the mercy of government agencies and bring your civil rights under risk. If you are a law-abiding citizen who believes that he has nothing to hide from the law, be aware that misuse of power is not unheard of, however rare it may be.

And officialdom is not the only thing a consumer of cloud computing services needs to worry about; private players can harm as effectively. This is especially relevant in the current cloud computing scenario where there is a distinct lack of standards and legal precedent to protect consumers’ interests. Consequently, cloud computing contracts are often vaguely worded and too favorable to service providers (See: The Small Print in Cloud Computing Contracts).

This issue gained traction in light of Amazon’s action against WikiLeaks earlier this year (See: Cloud Computing and WikiLeaks: Was Amazon’s action justified?).

This lack of faith in cloud computing may be one of the major reasons that can throw a spanner in its galloping popularity. Five months back, I had written about how Richard Stallman, father of the open-source software movement, had expressed grave concerns on exactly this issue (See: Who Doesn’t Like Cloud Computing? ).

In conclusion, this issue regarding cloud computing posing a possible threat to rights, both civil and consumer, deserves additional study. The cloud computing industry as a whole can help matters by setting standards and clarifying contracts (See: Cloud Computing Standards: How Important Are They?).

By Sourya Biswas


Sourya Biswas is a former risk analyst who has worked with several financial organizations of international repute, besides being a freelance journalist with several articles published online. After 6 years of work, he has decided to pursue further studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he has completed his MBA. He holds a Bachelors in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Information Technology. He is also a member of high-IQ organizations Mensa and Triple Nine Society and has been a prolific writer to CloudTweaks over the years...

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