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Report: U.S. Gov't May Have Better 'Cloud' Privacy Protection Than Other Countries

“It is incorrect to assume that the United States government’s access to data in the Cloud is greater than that of other advanced economies.”

The U.S. government has gotten gained a reputation for being considered overly invasive of its citizen's privacy thanks to laws such as the 2001 Patriot Act. But a recent "white paper" by a law firm found that other world governments shouldn't be so quick to judge.

The firm Hogan Lovells states in a press release that all 10 of the countries they reviewed have provisions in place to allow for government access to data in the "Cloud." Although they vary on the level of protection that is offered to private data against government's prying eyes, the U.S. was found to have more restrictions in place than other countries.

Written by Christopher Wolf, co-director of Hogan Lovells' Privacy and Information Management practice, and Winston Maxwell, a partner in the firm's Paris office, the white paper "debunked [the] frequently-expressed assumption that the United States is alone in permitting governmental access to data for law enforcement or national security reasons."

“As we said in the White Paper, our review reveals that businesses are misleading themselves and their customers if they contend that restricting Cloud service providers to one jurisdiction better insulates data from governmental access,” Wolf, based in Hogan Lovells’ Washington, D.C. office, said in a statement. “It is incorrect to assume that the United States government’s access to data in the Cloud is greater than that of other advanced economies.”

They write in the paper, "especially in Europe the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act (“Patriot Act”) has been invoked as a kind of shorthand to express the belief that the United States government has greater powers of access to personal data in the Cloud than governments elsewhere. However, our survey finds that even European countries with strict privacy laws also have anti-terrorism laws that allow expedited government access to Cloud data. As one observer put it, France's anti-terrorism laws make the Patriot Act look "namby-pamby" by comparison. Frequently, there are misconceptions about what the law allows, at home and abroad."

The white paper reviewed government access to Cloud data in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In the review, the firm notes that the U.S. has laws that "specifically protect Cloud data" from being accessed by the government unless through the appropriate legal channels, while other countries voluntarily pony up information without any legal due process.

PC World reports that this review debunks some of the European data servers claims that information would be safer using their service than one in the United States. But the sentiment that the U.S. is more apt to spy remains, even if untrue. PC World has more from the Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center Marc Rotenberg:

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., "the U.S. government has simply been far more aggressive in its demands for data from other jurisdictions than have other governments," Rotenberg said in an email. "The U.S. is also widely believed to have more powerful data processing tools than any other government. There is simply no other spy agency that competes with the NSA [U.S. National Security Agency]."

“As part of the study reflected in the White Paper, we consulted on local law with lawyers on the ground in each of the countries we examined and with their input, we found that it is not possible to isolate data in the Cloud from governmental access by choosing a provider based on its physical location,” said  Maxwell in a statement. “This is a critical finding that may directly impact businesses’ decisions related to Cloud storage.”

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