Washington Law Review

Comment

Privacy in the Cloud: The Fourth Amendment Fog

January 01, 2018 | 93 Wash. L. Rev. 1019

AbstractThe Cloud has changed how individuals record, store, and aggregate their personal information. As technology’s capacity for holding an individual’s most intimate details and recording day-to-day experiences increases, Fourth Amendment privacy protections become less equipped to respond to technological advances. These advances allow private companies to store an immense amount of their consumers’ personal information, and government entities to obtain that information. In response, tech companies have begun refusing to comply with government demands for information collected and stored in their devices and in the Cloud, and are increasingly ending up in court, fighting orders to disclose consumer information. A dynamic tension has developed between the United States government’s desire and increased capacity to obtain information about consumers, and tech companies wanting to keep their consumers’ information private. The relevant statute, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), is not equipped to address these technological advances. The Supreme Court’s extensive Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and guidelines for addressing Fourth Amendment issues are similarly ill-suited to answer the novel and unique issues that accompany digital, remote storage of personal information. This Comment identifies the inadequacies of ECPA and the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence as they each apply to technological advances and the potential of Cloud data. It argues that Congress must revise the legislative scheme to adequately protect information stored in the Cloud, particularly addressing whether consumers have a right to know when their information is being accessed by the United States government. Further, it argues courts lack the tools to adequately amend, reframe, repeal, or apply ECPA, and thus should not be the primary body making decisions about the bounds of technologically based government collection under the Fourth Amendment. Alternatively, if the legislature does not act, courts will remain required to make findings related to whether the collection of information is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Courts should, then, recognize that digital data deserves a fundamentally distinct analysis and discontinue the trend of finding attenuated connections between classic surveillance techniques and government surveillance using advanced technology.

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