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.

View comments (73)
Read the Terms of Use

Dominique Olbert

Does the Cloud act allow U.S. companies to perform wiretaps on US citizens (even in cases where they do not meet Wiretap Act standards) and disclose information about U.S. activists to our own government? Or just to foreign governments?


Does it matter? There is nothing in the Act from stopping them from say, Germany agreeing to snoop on Americans and then send that right back to the Feds.


Attached to Omnibus Spending Bill passed to avoid shutdown, as Ms. Giuliani predicted. Bill was signed into law, March 23, 2017.

Dr. Timothy Lea...

The ACLU is a high profile target for trolls because it counters their efforts to undermine civil discourse on matters of public concern.


Timothy Learys dead


This sounds like there's a world underground movement to repeal democracy. I know they're trying to do that in the US. I didn't realize it was worldwide.


And there it is. They did it. In one (secret) fell swoop they eliminated the 4th amendment in the digital world. Beacon of freedom? I'm tired of hearing how free we supposedly are.


I would think this is a sure fire loss in court. This isn't much different than the FBI contracting Best Buy to scan computers looking for "crime". This bill establishes pretty much that same setup by allowing a foreign nation to snoop at will and just forward all data to the US government. This is their answer to the world reacting to our NSA, by opening up Americans to foreign governments in return.


Dr. Timothy Leary is dead. Passed away in 1996. The guy posting here is a fraud.

Kathleen Umphress

I am tired of the current Congress and previous Congress's putting items in bills to sneek through items that they can not pass on their own. I am tired of bridges to no where and other offenses that happens. I believe we need to make an amendment to the constitution making this illegal.


Stay Informed