Edward Snowden and the Power of Cloud Computing

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The gap between technology and the law grows wider, with no bridge in sight.

Allison Stanger has an excellent piece over at Quartz titled “Why Edward Snowden is not a whistleblower.” Setting aside the title’s assertion, the Leng Professor of International Politics and Economics at Middlebury College makes a compelling case for the revolutionary power of cloud computing.

Cloud computing itself isn’t exactly new, as anyone who remembers the era of mainframe computing and dumb terminals knows. What is new is the scale of cloud platforms and the broad access to computing power and software applications those platforms offer. The announcement earlier this week that IBM will soon offer Watson Supercomputer cloud services to interested businesses drives home the point.

But there’s a clear tradeoff that accompanies such computing power, at least until the law catches up with the technology, Stanger notes:

“Cheap and powerful cloud computing potentially serves the interests of companies, consumers, and democracy alike. It also poses a great challenge. Whatever aspect of your life has been uploaded to the cloud does not currently have the same constitutional protection as the same information stored in a drawer in your home. The Fourth Amendment requires government to justify to a court why it has a compelling interest in your personal information. It protects the contents of your laptop from illegal search and seizure, but once you deposit something up in the cloud, you lose that protection. While there are some protections that treat emails like sealed letters, Fourth Amendment protection largely ends where virtual reality begins, since Americans are volunteering to share in this way, not being coerced to do so.”

Unfortunately, there’s little indication Congress is prepared to bridge the gap between law and technology anytime soon.

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(Image via Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)