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Patriot Act cloud study debunks idea that location can protect cloud data from government

A bane for U.S.-based cloud providers for several months now has been the assumption among cloud customers and service providers outside the U.S. – especially in Europe – that the Patriot Act gives the U.S. more access to cloud data than other governments. The idea, then, is that it’s safer to store your data with a cloud provider in a location free from such governmental access. A recent study debunked this Patriot Act cloud notion by showing that, in fact, other governments have just as much access as the U.S. for national security or law enforcement reasons.

The study, published by the global law firm Hogan Lovells (.pdf), looked at the laws of ten countries, including the U.S., France, Germany, Canada and Japan, and found each one vested authority in the government to require a cloud service provider to disclose customer data. The study showed that even countries with strict privacy laws have anti-terrorism laws that allow for expedited government access to cloud data.

“On the fundamental question of governmental access to data in the cloud, we conclude …that it is not possible to isolate data in the cloud from governmental access based on the physical location of the cloud service provider or its facilities,” wrote Christopher Wolf, co-director of Hogan Lovells’ privacy and information practice, and Winston Maxwell, a partner in the firm’s Paris office.

In a blog post, Dave Asprey, vice president of cloud security at Trend Micro, said the research “proves a bigger point; that your data will be disclosed with or without your permission, and with or without your knowledge, if you’re in one of the 10 countries covered.”

The only solution to this problem, he added, is encryption. But how encryption keys are handled is critical; encryption keys need to be on a policy-based management server at another cloud provider or under your own control, Asprey wrote. Now, Trend Micro has a vested interest here since it provides encryption key management, but it’s a point worth noting for organizations concerned about protecting cloud data not just from governments, but from cybercriminals.

For another examination of the Patriot Act’s impact on cloud computing, check out the article by contributor Francoise Gilbert. She looks at the rules for the federal government to access data and how they undercut concerns about the Patriot Act and cloud providers based in the U.S.

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