CPJ Concerned About CLOUD Act

The Committee to Protect Journalists is among those concerned about the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, which could pass this week as part of the omnibus appropriations bill that needs to pass by midnight Friday (March 23) to avoid another government shutdown.

The bill would make it easier for foreign governments to access data from tech companies, which CPJ says means it would be easier for those governments to gather communications from journalists.

The bill does require the executive branch to verify the human rights records of the foreign governments seeking access, but CPJ says the standards are vague.

"Governments around the world, including many U.S. allies, have directly targeted and surveilled journalists," said CPJ's Alexandra Ellerbeck, North American Program Coordinator. "Despite language that alludes to human rights, the bill itself removes existing oversight for data requests and provides very few protections to ensure that governments would not gain access to communications from reporters."

The bill would also allow U.S. Law enforcement to access communications stored abroad.

Related: Google, Yahoo! Amendment Would Weaken Surveillance Protections

With government access to foreign communications on the minds of Washington legislators these days--particularly a FISA Act warrant related to a Trump Administration official--a bipartisan group of congress members on both sides of the Hill last month introduced the CLOUD Act.

Its backers say the act is meant to encourage governments the world over to come up with a "clear" framework for technology companies--like ISPs--to follow when governments make cross-border demands for data stored in the cloud.

Digital rights advocate Fight for the Future (FFTF) has big issues with the bill as well.

“The breaking story on Facebook user data being manipulated by Cambridge Analytica underscores the ways that data, when collected en masse, can be used to undermine democracy rather than expand it," said FFTF deputy director Evan Greer. "The CLOUD Act would recklessly expose the sensitive information that we entrust with big tech companies, creating loopholes for police in the U.S. and other countries to access our information without judicial oversight," she said. "It creates an end-run around the Fourth Amendment and endangers all internet users’ basic right to privacy, security, and free expression."

The ACLU and Amnesty International also see no silver lining in the CLOUD Act: "At a time when human rights activists, dissidents and journalists around the world face unprecedented attacks, we cannot afford to weaken our commitment to human rights," the two groups blogged this week. "But the recently introduced CLOUD Act would do just that."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.