Keeping Data Off U.S. Servers Won't Prevent the Government from Snooping

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If the U.S. wants to get a hold of foreign data in any cloud -- American or not -- it has legal ways of getting it. The PATRIOT Act, or at least the idea of it, is giving foreign cloud computing firms a competitive advantage over American services, reports Politico's David Saled Rauf. Foreign competitors warn that putting data on U.S. services like Google or Microsoft will subject that data to the  government restrictions on gathering data in America vis-a-vis the Patriot Act. "Put your data on a U.S.-based cloud, they warn, and you may just put it in the hands of the U.S. government," writes Rauf. But, it's kind of a moot point: U.S. spy laws are more lenient about foreign data as it is and have no legal barriers to monitoring non-citizen information.


The U.S. has separate, more lenient rules for spying on foreigners. The National Security Agency, the government electronic-espionage arm has far-reaching capabilities to monitor foreign data, explained Jane Mayer in the New Yorker earlier this year. "The agency reportedly has the capacity to intercept and download, every six hours, electronic communications equivalent to the contents of the Library of Congress," she wrote. And with the Bush wire tapping scandal, we saw the N.S.A. track incoming international data from foreign sources without warrants. Even though that has been ruled illegal, the N.S.A can still intercept foreign data, especially when it travels through the U.S.

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As it is, the claims of protecting data from the PATRIOT Act by foreign data servers may be more about branding than it is an actual guarantee. "The PATRIOT Act has come to be a kind of label for this set of concerns,” Ambassador Philip Verveer, U.S. coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the State Department, told Politico. “We think, to some extent, it’s taking advantage of a misperception, and we’d like to clear up that misperception." That statement would lead one to believe that the data isn't exactly in the government's hands. Who really knows. But that's the government word.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.