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article imageOp-Ed: Dangerous Cloud Act passed as part of Omnibus spending bill

By Ken Hanly     Mar 25, 2018 in Politics
Washington - The Cloud Act ( Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act) was a last minute addition to the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill. The bill will allow the U.S. government more access to data on Americans for law enforcement purposes.
The bill also allows foreign governments access to U.S. companies for data on their own citizens.
Cloud Act hidden in Omnibus spending bill.
The Cloud Act was added to the Omnibus spending bill on Wednesday evening ahead of the voting that took place on Thursday.
The inclusion ensures there is no separate discussion or voting on the bill. The Omnibus bill passed by 256-167 In the House and 65-23 in the Senate.
Cloud Act criticized by rights groups
Privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) were critical of the bill. After the bill passed the EFF said that "this final, tacked-on piece of legislation will erode privacy protections around the globe".
On March 22, the day of the vote, Senator Rand Paul tweeted: “Congress should reject the CLOUD Act because it fails to protect human rights or Americans’ up their constitutional role, and gives far too much power to the attorney general, the secretary of state, the president and foreign governments." He then noted that Congress could not reject the Act because without any legislative action or review it got placed into the Omnibus bill.
The ACLU's objections
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted a letter on the act on March 12. The letter said that in the opinion of the ACLU the bill “undermines privacy and other human rights, as well as important democratic safeguards,” because it bypassed Congress and the existing stored information procedure and placed authority in the executive branch.
The act also does not exclude the US making deals with governments that have human rights abuses. It also allows foreign governments to directly contact US companies for data requests without any judicial review. In other words the bill has much less oversight that might detect violations of privacy rights.
Part of the ACLU letter reads: "The CLOUD Act undermines the rights of individuals both inside and outside the U.S. The legislation would, among other things: (1) allow foreign governments to wiretap on U.S. soil under standards that do not comply with U.S. law; (2) give the executive branch the power to enter into foreign agreements without Congressional approval, including in cases where countries have a concerning human rights record; (3) allow foreign governments to obtain information that could pertain to individuals in the U.S. without meeting constitutional standards; and (4) possibly facilitate foreign government access to information that is used to commit human rights abuses, like torture."
Big tech firms are big supporters of the bill.
In spite of the fact that in actuality the CLOUD bill detracts from privacy protection a number of big tech companies wrote a joint letter supporting it.
A letter on February 6th written jointly by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Oath said: “Our companies have long advocated for international agreements and global solutions to protect our customers and Internet users around the world. We have always stressed that dialogue and legislation - not litigation - is the best approach. If enacted, the CLOUD Act would be notable progress to protect consumers’ rights and would reduce conflicts of law.”
Microsoft again posted a letter supporting the bill on March 21, stating that the Cloud Act claiming that the bill: “Creates a modern legal framework for how law enforcement agencies can access data across borders. It’s a strong statute and a good compromise that reflects recent bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, as well as support from the Department of Justice, the White House, the National Association of Attorneys General and a broad cross section of technology companies [...] it gives tech companies like Microsoft the ability to stand up for the privacy rights of our customers around the world. .."
If the bill has all these virtues, why was it not examined by any committee in either House or Senate? It received no hearing.
Behind closed doors, Congressional leaders decided to tack this bill onto a 2,237 page bill that was meant solely to appropriate money for government spending. Legislators were handed the bill at 8:00 p.m. the evening before a morning vote. One can imagine how thoroughly the contents were examined.
No doubt there was considerable lobbying by Big Tech and others to have this happen, to ensure that there was no debate on a separate bill. The way that this bill was passed shows how little the U.S. Congress and Big Tech care about discussing privacy issues. Congress is moved by the interests of big corporations and acts so as to avoid any discussion of the Cloud Act so it can pass without any criticism.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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