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Fourth Amendment and Cloud Computing

What exactly is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is the utilization of virtual servers that information is stored on. This allows for users and companies to save information but not use up space on their personal servers or computers.

Cloud Computing is very helpful when you look at “what IT always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software.” -InfoWorld

The use of cloud computing is appealing to many companies and normal users because it allows them to have more capabilities and efficiency than they actually have equipment for. The use of the cloud and what it can offer can reduce costs for companies because they don’t need to buy new equipment or hire people and train them on how to use this new equipment.

Below is a basic diagram showing how cloud computing works. The Laptop, iPhone and Desktop computer all go into the Cloud. The Servers and External Storage are fed into the cloud. So the Laptop, iPhone, and Desktop computers all have to go through the cloud in order to access the virtual servers or virtual storage.

Cloud Diagram

What is the Fourth Amendment?

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." -FindLaw

In essence, the Fourth Amendment prevents illegal searches and seizures of property and related items. This is so that citizens's homes and related areas are not being randomly searched and have items taken for no reason. Anything that is found by the Police or other investigative forces without the use of a warrant renders the items found useless in court. Anything that is found without a warrant or without probable cause cannot be held against a person.  

Does the Fourth Amendment cover Cloud Computing?

It is still unsure about if the Fourth Amendment does actually include data stored in the cloud. The law that would help to clarify this uncertainty would be the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

This act, from here on out known as ECPA, “sets out the provisions for access, use, disclosure, interception and privacy protections of electronic communications.” AOL Legal Department.

To briefly cover the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, it came into being in 1986 and mainly focused on wiretaps but has been broadened in order to cover different areas of technology.
In order to obtain any sort of information from a legal standpoint there needs to be a warrant. However there are questions on what exactly this warrant pertains to. One of the debates is if a warrant is granted for a computer does that mean that the warrant pertains to the information on the cloud that the computer had accessed. The question is, because the information is ‘on the cloud’ and is therefore not located on that computer’s hard drive, is the information on the cloud still covered by the warrant for the computer?
A big question is that shouldn’t the data on a computer or on the cloud be covered by the same privacy laws than of that same information in a folder in the user’s desk drawer? Shouldn’t documents that are stored on the cloud also need a warrant to attain that information or is it open to everyone because it is not personally stored on the local computer?
There are various opinions on this topic, opinions that you should be allowed to make on your own, but I will tell you mine. I believe that in today’s ‘plugged-in’ world that the information that is stored on the cloud should be protected in the same way that any written down information in a notebook would be. A lot of college students, including myself, almost never print anything off and everything is either stored on the computer, on the cloud, or on an external hard drive/USB stick. This new form of electronically storing information should be protected because this is the direction that the technology-advancing world is heading in.


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