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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dispersing the Cloud...

I heard about this on the radio when driving in to work, but Senator Patrick Leahy wants to make it easier for the government to spy on you. From CNET:
A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans' e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law.

CNET has learned that Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans' e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Leahy's rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies -- including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission -- to access Americans' e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.

It's an abrupt departure from Leahy's earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."

One person participating in Capitol Hill meetings on this topic told CNET that Justice Department officials have expressed their displeasure about Leahy's original bill. The department is on record as opposing any such requirement: James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, has publicly warned that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an "adverse impact" on criminal investigations.
Gosh darn it, the Constitution makes it so inconvenient to catch criminals and throw them in jail. All the trouble of having a paralegal type up a probable cause affidavit and getting a judge to rubber-stamp it (because the FBI gets its warrants turned down so often). Why don't we simply revoke the 4th Amendment, and do away with trials. As most any jury will tell you, if the police arrested someone, it means they are guilty.We know the police never make mistakes, abuse their authority, or make things up.

Moving beyond the sarcasm, though, is a broader technical issue, which should concern industry and that is the future of cloud computing. The idea that data can be securely stored over a network of computers not under a company's or person's direct control is central to cloud computing. However, if the government can freely access such data without a warrant or any meaningful controls, it removes a central underpinning of cloud computing--securely storing the data.

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