Who Can Access Your data, And Where Does Your Data Live? Legal Aspects Of Cloud Computing

Who can access your data, and where does your data live? Legal aspects of Cloud computing

Lawmakers are often way behind technologists and engineers, and it is no surprise that there has been little legislation specifically relating to Cloud computing. Often a major lawsuit gets filed before they wake up to the implications of the technology. However, as more companies and consumers are jumping on the Cloud bandwagon, it is time that society paid more attention to the legal aspects of Cloud computing.

Here are two legal issues to think about in relation to Cloud computing:

  1. Access to data. If the data is on the hard drive of your home PC or on an enterprise server, law enforcement agencies can access it only if they obtain a warrant. However, if you are using Cloud service providers, some of them could hand over your data to law enforcement agencies without first serving you a legal warrant. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have been accused of handing over its users’ email content to the Chinese government before, and it should be assumed that they could do likewise with your Cloud data.

In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Mark Radcliff, a senior partner at DLA Piper says,

“Law enforcement can subpoena the service, but it depends on their contractual obligation.”

In other words, what they spell out in their terms of service. Always remember this is a contract that you agree to by using the service. So, make sure you read your contract with the Cloud service provider very carefully.

  1. Jurisdiction of data. In the real world, physical boundaries are tied directly to legal jurisdiction. Thus, data stored on servers has to comply with the local “laws of the land”, and these laws vary across the world. Europeans treasure their privacy more than Americans, but many Asian governments are not too shy about arm-twisting service providers to obtain data or block content.

But what about the Cloud? When the Cloud provider provides a geo-redundancy option and stores data in multiple locations throughout the world, you have to be sure that your data and applications comply with all the laws that apply to those locations. This requires you to know the locations of the servers on which your data is stored and to raise the issue with the Cloud service provider regarding the specific regulations that apply in those locations.

If you are a small business owner or a consumer, you might not have thought much about the legal implications of the Cloud when you are storing your files on SkyDrive or Dropbox. Now, it is time you got a good legal counsel to look into these aspects.

By Balaji Viswanathan

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