Some of the world’s most innovative cloud computing companies are based in Utah, but an international patchwork of outdated and conflicting laws on how law enforcement can access our online data threatens the entire industry. Fortunately, Sen. Orrin Hatch has taken a leadership role in pressing Congress to establish clarity for U.S. companies doing business overseas, to protect our individual privacy rights and to help law enforcement do its job more effectively.
As a longtime Utah resident and a technology and marketing consultant based in Salt Lake City, I am incredibly proud of the renaissance of entrepreneurship and innovation taking hold across our state. At the heart of this growth are startups building powerful “cloud computing” software services, which run on internet-connected servers located around the globe. For example, Farmington-based Pluralsight is redefining the future of learning with its education-on-demand platform, and in American Fork, Domo is revolutionizing business management through its much-lauded “business cloud” solutions.
Cloud computing technology allows even the smallest, most remote companies to serve clients around the globe, and the cloud works most efficiently when it allows them to store their data where it makes the most technical, rather than the most geographical, sense. However, the future of cloud computing opportunities for Utah’s innovators remains murky unless we update the legal framework governing how law enforcement can access data stored overseas.
Implemented in 1986, years before the cloud was even invented, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is outdated and ambiguous and proving harmful to the success of our business, the trust of our customers, and the ability of law enforcement to do their jobs effectively. Because of the ambiguities codified within this statute, companies providing cloud services are caught precariously between international legal jurisdictions. For example, when faced with a U.S. law enforcement request to gather data stored in a cloud server in Italy, American companies are forced to choose between abiding by the data access laws of the United States or Italy.
This ambiguity is having an unintentional chilling effect on our ability to do business around the world. Without clarity on where and how U.S. warrants may be used to access cloud data, Utah companies I work with can be hesitant to store data overseas. Meanwhile, foreign companies are increasingly hesitant to house data in the United States because they are concerned about the privacy of their data.
The result has been a series of time-consuming lawsuits in the U.S. Court of Appeals with differing outcomes, while uncertainty for companies and citizens builds and law enforcement’s access to data is not clarified. Congress needs to act.
Hatch helped jump-start Congress’ interest in this issue last year when he introduced the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA). Though it did not pass, this legislation would have helped to clarify the responsibilities of businesses storing data overseas, ensure law enforcement has the tools it needs to access information abroad and restore the trust of foreign companies storing data in the United States. This week, legislators on the Senate Judiciary Committee have an opportunity to revisit this vital issue.
It’s imperative that Congress quickly address the ambiguity within our current law. As every company becomes a software company, we need legislation that supports our companies’ ability to store data overseas, protects our individual privacy rights and helps U.S. law enforcement do its important job. Utah’s tech renaissance, and the success of cloud-driven companies across our country, depends on it.
Jeff Hadfield is the founder of 1564B, based in Salt Lake City. 1564b focuses on technical markets and helps companies in Utah, and across the country, reach their marketing, sales and content goals.