"Cloud computing" is a technology buzzword which seems just past its peak. We won't go into the geekier aspects of the tech, just what it means for end users: Cloud-computing applications like Evernote, Google Mail, and Google Docs store your information online, in a "cloud" of servers. That makes it always available to you from any Internet-connected device: iPhone, Android Phone, laptop, etc.
These applications can make you incredibly productive. AnotherDem and I plan our vacations using Google Docs, updating a shared document with travel plans, things we'd like to do, and places we'd like to go. I used a shared Google calendar at work to schedule support worker shifts until we got shared Exchange calendars on our own system. And I'm just getting to understand just how powerful, from a Getting Things Done perspective, Evernote can be.
Did you know that the federal government can freely access any of your emails on these servers that are greater than 180 days old...without a warrant? Or that they don't even need a warrant to get at any data you store in Google docs or Evernote?
The law that governs the protection of this kind of online information is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. As explained in a segment in last week's On the Media, the Act's ancient provisions were written when CompuServe was cutting-edge, my home computer was an Atari ST running GEM, my work computer was a Zenith Z-100 running Windows 2, and the Mac was...well, you get the picture.
This statute clearly needs to be updated to protect our data that's in the cloud, requiring due process of law before law enforcement can get at it. That means a warrant signed by a judge.
It's time that Congress modernize the ECPA to bring out-of-control law enforcement down to earth.