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.

Methodically Plan Your Cloud Design First

Methodically Plan Your Cloud Design First

Are You Sure You Are Ready For The Cloud: Design For the last few months, we have been discussing getting ready to go to the cloud. We have covered topics such as Financial and Business Security reasons. We have even discussed the type of knowledge you should obtain. This month, we are going to take…

Personal Space And The Internet of Things (IoT)

Personal Space And The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) There is a long time concept of the personal area network or PAN. For all intent and purposes this is the maximum distance a Bluetooth device can move away from the host and still be functional. As I read the many wonderful pieces on the explosion of IoT and wearable…

The Concept Of Securing IoT To Secure Your Building

The Concept Of Securing IoT To Secure Your Building

Securing IoT Ah, security. It is the dulcet tone of a symphony that we play over and over in the IT world. IoT (Internet of Things) and the myriad of connected devices allow us some intriguing security options. For example, in a mesh array of sensors, you could effectively force users to correctly identify themselves…

How To Overcome Data Insecurity In The Cloud

How To Overcome Data Insecurity In The Cloud

Data Insecurity In The Cloud Today’s escalating attacks, vulnerabilities, breaches, and losses have cut deeply across organizations and captured the attention of, regulators, investors and most importantly customers. In many cases such incidents have completely eroded customer trust in a company, its services and its employees. The challenge of ensuring data security is far more…

Basic Cloud Risk Assessment Tips

Basic Cloud Risk Assessment Tips

Basic Cloud Risk Assessment You should worry about the risks of cloud computing. But don’t get too scared. With a few simple steps you can easily get a basic understanding of your risks in the cloud and even have a good start in managing these risks. If you are a large corporation in a regulated…

Bimodal IT Is Not The Death of Traditional IT

Bimodal IT Is Not The Death of Traditional IT

Not The Death of Traditional IT If you are a CIO, no doubt you are getting pressure from your line of business managers to provide a more agile IT environment so they can take advantage of faster, easier to use cloud applications. If you’re not providing those services, they are probably using them anyway and…

Utilizing Software Defined Networking (SDN)

Utilizing Software Defined Networking (SDN)

Software Defined Networking Winding down this year, we only have a couple of topics left: SDNs and SDI. Although SDNs are part of a solid SDI, we want to talk directly about it now. Many cloud management tools have the ability to create a virtual network. But creating a true VXLAN would require support of…

CloudTweaks is recognized as one of the leading influencers in cloud computing, infosec, big data and the internet of things (IoT) information. Our goal is to continue to build our growing information portal by providing the best in-depth articles, interviews, event listings, whitepapers, infographics and much more.

Advertising