Government Intrusion Into The Cloud

Government Intrusion Into The Cloud

Government Intrusion Into The Cloud

The latest revelations about our government’s surveillance of “telephony metadata” is a scandal for some but a yawner for most Americans. 56% said they didn’t mind as long as the information was being used to catch terrorists. The thing is that while Contractor Snowden named names: PRISM, Microsoft, Verizon, Google, he didn’t tell us anything that hasn’t been in the press for years – even decades.

privacy-government

But, what if you run a cloud service, communications network or even an email server, and receive a government demand for customer data? Can you tell your customers? Should you? What is your risk is as a provider?

There are several avenues for the government to access your customers’ electronic records. Ironically, two of them are “privacy” laws designed to put some restraints around law enforcement and the intelligence community: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”). But it was the Patriot Act that really boosted electronic surveillance by the FBI through the National Security Letter (“NSL”) statutes. None of these laws are new. The Patriot Act is now 12 years old. FISA turned 35 this year, and the ECPA is 27 years old.

Contractor Snowden’s leaks appear to be related to FISC orders, the secret court authorized by FISA that may issue orders for the surveillance of non-US citizens without their knowledge.

The ECPA came about to give early email users comfort that their mail providers wouldn’t just turn over their email to anyone who might ask. In defense of the ECPA, it requires law enforcement to get subpoenas, search warrants or court orders through normal channels. It also requires the provider to get customer consent to disclose the contents of their communications, but not for disclosure of customer account information.

NSLs have a history of abuse by the FBI and have suffered repeated constitutional challenges with the latest adverse court ruling just in March of this year. A US District Court judge declared the entire statute unconstitutional and told the FBI to stop issuing them. However, in a remarkable reversal a few weeks ago, the same judge ordered Google to turn over most of the requested user information anyway, pending a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court. Stay tuned on the status of NSLs.

So what’s eating Snowden? Has surveillance activity under these laws spiked? Due to the secrecy requirements, we, the general public, get only an annual report on numbers of FISC orders and NSL authorizations. On Monday, The Daily Show reported to outraged laughter that FISC had issued 1788 orders last year. But that’s not the half of it. The FBI issued 15,229 NSLs pertaining to 6,223 different US persons – not including requests for subscriber information only. While this may be shocking, the reality is that the numbers of FISC orders have been reasonably consistent since 9/11, and the number of reported NSLs has dropped 50-70% during the Obama administration.

In the end, what does this mean to a cloud company that gets a law enforcement demand to turn over customer information?

  • A subpoena, search warrant or court order issued under the ECPA may or may not require notifying the customer and getting the customer’s consent prior to disclosure. Make sure it’s validly issued and get consent if necessary before complying. If you follow the law, the ECPA provides you immunity from actions claiming improper disclosure.
  • Check your customer contracts including any confidentiality agreements. It’s common to agree to notify the customer, if allowed by law, prior to disclosing any customer information so that the customer may seek to limit or deny the request. The ECPA doesn’t require secrecy. FISA and NSL authorizations typically do.
  • A FISC order is secret and literally would take an act of Congress to change. However, in 2008 FISA was amended to give immunity to communications providers who follow the law. Now do you understand PRISM?
  • It’s unclear if NSLs are still being issued during the appeal of the Google case, but any NSL bears careful scrutiny before complying. In addition, there is no immunity for communications providers under the NSL statutes.

By Cindy Wolf

(Image Source: Shutterstock)

About CloudTweaks

Established in 2009, CloudTweaks is recognized as one of the leading authorities in connected technology information and services.

We embrace and instill thought leadership insights, relevant and timely news related stories, unbiased benchmark reporting as well as offer green/cleantech learning and consultive services around the world.

Our vision is to create awareness and to help find innovative ways to connect our planet in a positive eco-friendly manner.

In the meantime, you may connect with CloudTweaks by following and sharing our resources.

View All Articles

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

How Does IT Operations Management Help Enterprise IT?

How Does IT Operations Management Help Enterprise IT?

IT Operations Management Rapid change is the new constant with today’s Enterprises. There is a continuous shift in the technology landscape and the demands of the customers coupled with Enterprises wanting to stay competitive. This changing, fluid environment results in concurrent changes with IT infrastructure. Enterprises today are turning to IT Operations Management to bring…

Conquering Disease with Artificial Intelligence and IBM Watson

Conquering Disease with Artificial Intelligence and IBM Watson

Artificial Intelligence and IBM Watson Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is growing increasingly pervasive in today’s modern world. Perhaps the most publicized and recognizable application of AI to date, IBM’s Jeopardy-winning computer, Watson, is now being used to help cure cancer. IBM announced the development of Watson for Genomics on Wednesday at the National Cancer Moonshot…

The Fundamentals of Predictive Analysis

The Fundamentals of Predictive Analysis

Predictive Analysis  Article sponsored by SAS Software and Big Data Forum Analytics is playing an increasingly important role in our lives thanks in large part to internet of things (IoT) developments and a greater appreciation of Big Data. With solutions that range across business productivity, health care, individual and national security, new insights are regularly…

Clouding Around With The Unicorns

Clouding Around With The Unicorns

The Social Unicorn Early investors and technology consumers alike love the poignantly named “Unicorn” companies, or private startups that reach the $1 billion valuation. The most recent unicorn spotting is social media game-changer Snapchat, which was recently valued at $16 billion. According to a recent infographic from Alexa discovered via Adweek, Snapchat also proves to…

Achieving Network Security In The IoT

Achieving Network Security In The IoT

Security In The IoT The network security market is experiencing a pressing and transformative change, especially around access control and orchestration. Although it has been mature for decades, the network security market had to transform rapidly with the advent of the BYOD trend and emergence of the cloud, which swept enterprises a few years ago.…

Are Women Discriminated Against In The Tech Sector?

Are Women Discriminated Against In The Tech Sector?

Women Discriminated Against In Tech Sector It is no secret that the tech industry is considered sexist since most women are paid less than men; there are considerably fewer women in tech jobs; and generally men get promoted above women. Yet the irony is twofold. Firstly, there is an enormous demand for employees with skills…

Five Cloud Questions Every CIO Needs To Know How To Answer

Five Cloud Questions Every CIO Needs To Know How To Answer

The Hot Seat Five cloud questions every CIO needs to know how to answer The cloud is a powerful thing, but here in the CloudTweaks community, we already know that. The challenge we have is validating the value it brings to today’s enterprise. Below, let’s review five questions we need to be ready to address…

Cloud Infographic – The Future Of Big Data

Cloud Infographic – The Future Of Big Data

The Future Of Big Data Big Data is BIG business and will continue to be one of the more predominant areas of focus in the coming years from small startups to large scale corporations. We’ve already covered on CloudTweaks how Big Data can be utilized in a number of interesting ways from preventing world hunger to helping teams win…

Low Cost Cloud Computing Gives Rise To Startups

Low Cost Cloud Computing Gives Rise To Startups

Balancing The Playing Field For Startups According to a Goldman Sachs report, cloud infrastructure and platform spending could reach $43 billion by 2018, which is up $16 billion from last year, representing a growth of around 30% from 2013 said the analyst. This phenomenal growth is laying the foundation for a new breed of startup…

Cloud Infographic – Big Data Predictions By 2023

Cloud Infographic – Big Data Predictions By 2023

Big Data Predictions By 2023 Everything we do online from social networking to e-commerce purchases, chatting, and even simple browsing yields tons of data that certain organizations collect and poll together with other partner organizations. The results are massive volumes of data, hence the name “Big Data”. This includes personal and behavioral profiles that are stored, managed, and…

5 Ways The Internet of Things Will Drive Cloud Growth

5 Ways The Internet of Things Will Drive Cloud Growth

5 Ways The Internet of Things Will Drive Cloud Growth The Internet of Things is the latest term to describe the interconnectivity of all our devices and home appliances. The goal of the internet of things is to create universal applications that are connected to all of the lights, TVs, door locks, air conditioning, and…

4 Industries Being Transformed By The Internet of Things

4 Industries Being Transformed By The Internet of Things

Compelling IoT Industries Every year, more and more media organizations race to predict the trends that will come to shape the online landscape over the next twelve months. Many of these are wild and outlandish and should be consumed with a pinch of salt, yet others stand out for their sober and well-researched judgements. Online…