The Cloud Act Is a Dangerous Piece of Legislation

Despite its fluffy sounding name, the recently introduced CLOUD Act is far from harmless. It threatens activists abroad, individuals here in the U.S., and would empower Attorney General Sessions in new disturbing ways. And, now, some members of Congress may be working behind the scenes to sneak it into a gargantuan spending bill that Congress will shortly consider.

This is why the ACLU and over 20 other privacy and human rights organizations have joined together to oppose the bill. Make no mistake, the CLOUD Act represents a dramatic change in our law, and its effects will be felt across the globe.

Today, the information of global activists — such as those that fight for LGBTQ rights, defend religious freedom, or advocate for gender equality are protected from being disclosed by U.S. companies to governments who may seek to do them harm. The CLOUD Act eliminates many of these protections and replaces them with vague assurances, weak standards, and largely unenforceable restrictions.

The bill starts by giving the executive branch dramatically more power than it has today. It would allow Attorney General Sessions to enter into agreements with foreign governments that bypass current law, without any approval from Congress. Under these agreements, foreign governments would be able to get emails and other electronic information without any additional scrutiny by a U.S. judge or official. And, while the attorney general would need to consider a country’s human rights record, he is not prohibited from entering into an agreement with a country that has committed human rights abuses.

That level of discretion alone is concerning. Even more, however, the bill would for the first time allow these foreign governments to wiretap in the U.S. — even in cases where they do not meet Wiretap Act standards. Paradoxically, that would give foreign governments the power to engage in surveillance — which could sweep in the information of Americans communicating with foreigners — that the U.S. itself would not be able to engage in. The bill also provides broad discretion to funnel this information back to the U.S., circumventing the Fourth Amendment. This information could potentially be used by the U.S. to engage in a variety of law enforcement actions.

On top of this, the bill does not require that the Department of Justice or any U.S. government entity review individual requests for information made by foreign governments to ensure that human rights are not being violated. The country of Poland provides a classic example of why this could be a problem, even in a country that some have considered to have a relatively sound human rights record.

According to Freedom House rankings, Poland is rated a one on political rights, the highest rating, and a two out of five on civil liberties. However, in recent months, the Polish government has taken steps to pass laws that restrict speech and, in 2017, the government raided the offices of several human rights groups, seizing documents and computers only a day after women staged a march to protest the country’s abortion laws. The bill would provide no protection against requests in these situations, which wrongly target activists and threaten to undo the progress we have made on global human rights.

The CLOUD Act represents a major change in the law — and a major threat to our freedoms. Congress should not try to sneak it by the American people by hiding it inside of a giant spending bill.  There has not been even one minute devoted to considering amendments to this proposal. Congress should robustly debate this bill and take steps to fix its many flaws, instead of trying to pull a fast one on the American people.

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Anonymous

Timothy is dead

Alexander

Another sneaky step to add Gestapo policing and further erode constitutional freedoms. It is currently happening with ICE. So this is a natural follow up. Dangerous, scary, and Un Amercan in every sense of the word.

Anonymous

Did you read the bill? I hope you aren't just taking the authors word on it as she didn't even bother to cite the parts of the law she thinks will cause the damage much less explain why she thinks those specific parts will cause damage to activists.

Anonymous

To anonymous above, here's from the bill (every communication is required to be stored for lager gov't use): "A provider of electronic communication service or remote computing service shall comply with the obligations of this chapter to preserve, backup, or disclose the con- tents of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information pertaining to a customer or sub- scriber within such provider’s possession, custody, or con- trol, regardless of whether such communication, record, or other information is located within or outside of the United States.’’.

David Todd McCarty

Just more authoritarian garbage from a corrupt administration. They wish to run above the law and without any accountability.

Anonymous

I don’t think enough people in the US care about protecting foreign activists. This needs to be spun as an act that allows foreign countries to get data on US citizens.

But, Snowden has showed that NSA already had all this information, so maybe they’re just now giving themselves permission.

Anonymous

It *is* an act that allows foreign countries to get data on US citizens.... did you not read it???

Andrew B Brown

That is their response to my suggestion of regulating IT with a Texas Technology Commission.

Anonymous

You emphasized that this bill would give the AG the power to enter in to agreements with foreign governments that bypass current laws. If this bill passes then it will be a law and when Congress changes laws the changes override current laws so, procedurally, that's fine. Also, I read through the act and think you are being a bit paranoid. It seems to be aimed more at terrorists than activists. In fact, I didn't see anything in the bill that seemed to be for the purpose of hurting activists (although, I suppose terrorists could be called activists). Also, it's generally not hard to get info on activists. Being an activists generally entails being very visible and reachable by the public. This act wouldn't be of much use to a government targeting activists as they aren't difficult to track down.

Anonymous

This "Journalist" most likely skimmed over the text and made a generalized/sensationalized article on it... Instead of reporting the facts. I could tell in the first two paragraphs she was actually going to talk about any substance. Time for me to go read it (goes for you too author)!

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