Yesterday, Steve Jobs wowed the tech world with exciting announcement of Apple’s newest product, iCloud. iCloud is Apple’s long awaited cloud computing tool. It enables users to sync iPhones (and XL sized iPhones ) with Mac computers, and instantly access files and exchange them between devices, using the Internet. Cloud computing is an excellent way to make life for those with multiple devices (increasingly becoming the norm) easier and more convenient. Given Apple’s focus on creating aesthetic, user-friendly products, iCloud is likely to be highly successful.
Apple addicts should beware, however, because iCloud might also seriously compromise your privacy.
According to apple.com, the free service will enable users to store a variety of items on the Internet, including music, books, documents, and emails. While we certainly want easy access to these things, most people would abhor the notion of giving the government the same easy access. Yet, putting items in iCloud may do just that.
Currently, our privacy rights regarding all electronic communications – including those based in the Internet – are governed by the Electronic Privacy Communications Act. The problem is, this law was created in 1986, back when the Internet didn’t exist and Apple was promoting itself as the underdog fighting Big Brother. Now, it is unclear exactly how this significantly outdated legislation applies to technologies such as smartphones, instant messaging, and cloud computing.
In the absence of clarity, government has reached broadly into cyberspace. Last year, the Justice Department argued that the law gave it the ability to monitor cell data and emails without a search warrant. It seems likely that the same argument will be made for cloud computing, which not only contains emails and phone data, but also music, books, and personal documents. At the same time, the government is considering an expansion of CALEA – which requires telecommunication providers to design networks to allow government access – to Internet services.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is in desperate need of revision. The Internet is reshaping every aspect of our society in new and wondrous ways. Yet, we must continue to preserve the values that have always been and always will be fundamentally important to our society. Technology cannot be allowed to rush forward while the law lags behind. A wide array of legislation must be updated in order to effectively serve its purpose. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act is a great place to start.