The Privacy BlogThoughts on privacy, security, and other stuff.

May/13

16

Cloud and telecom needs the same legal protection as snail mail.

The ACLU just posted an article about a recent federal magistrate judge’s ruling. It is a somewhat bizarre case.

The DEA had an arrest warrant for a doctor suspected selling prescription pain killer drugs for cash. They then requested a court order to obtain his real time location information from his cell provider.

The judge went along, but then published a 30 page opinion stating that no order or warrant should have been required for the location information because the suspect had no expectation of location privacy. If he wanted privacy, all he had to have done is to turn off his phone (which would have prevented the collection of the information at all, not just established his expectation).

So, if this line of reasoning is picked up and becomes precedent, it is clear than anyone on the run needs to keep their phone off and / or use burner phones paid for with cash.

My concern is that, if there is no expectation of privacy, is there anything preventing government entities from requesting location information on whole populations without any probable cause or court order.

While I think that the use of location information in this case was completely appropriate, I would sleep better if there was the check and balance of the need for a court order before getting it.

This is another situation where technology has run ahead of the law. The Fourth Amendment was written in a time where information was in tangible form, and the only time it was generally in the hands of third parties, was when it was in the mail. Therefor search of mail in transit was specially protected.

Today, cloud and telecommunication providers serve much the same purpose as the US Postal Service, and are used in similar ways. It is high time that the same protection extended to snail mail be applied to the new high tech communications infrastructures we use today.

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2 comments

  • Rob Del Genio · May 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made headlines last year (http://bit.ly/107Audn), when he revealed his fears about consumers using cloud storage. “I really worry about everything going to the cloud,” Wozniak said. “I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.”

    Wozniak seemed to long for the good old days when people kept everything they owned in their possession. “I want to feel that I own things,” he said. “A lot of people feel, ‘Oh, everything is really on my computer,’ but I say the more we transfer everything onto the web, onto the cloud, the less we’re going to have control over it.”

    A new product is about to hit the market that may have The Woz as its first customer. It’s called StoAmigo’s CloudLocker (www.cloudlocker.it). It’s a private cloud you keep in your home or office. According to the web site, it works much like any online cloud storage service like Dropbox, Skydrive, etc., but instead of keeping your stuff on some server in who knows where, everything stays on your CloudLocker, which is about the size of a hardcover book.

    The CloudLocker seems to strike right at the heart of Woz’s “cloud concerns” by giving people the best of both worlds. Your files, movies, songs and data stay safely in your possession, but you can still share them with your friends and family. A setup like this could change the way people view cloud storage and sharing services. The CloudLocker offers access from anywhere as well as complete privacy and control.

    StoAmigo’s CloudLocker sells for $349, but a company spokesman says a discount of up to $100 is available for a limited time (http://www.cloudlocker.it/preorder-pcl/).

  • Author comment by lance · May 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    I have been keeping an eye on that product. It is an interesting take on the problem. It certainly addresses the search warrant question.

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