independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

CIA free to snoop on private data of Irish cloud users

US authorities could be able to access information stored by Irish citizens on popular cloud services under a new law being enacted in the States.

Cloud computing has grown in popularity as it allows companies and individuals to save files such as pictures or documents without having to spend money on expensive hard drives or computer server systems.

Instead, people effectively rent space on clouds such as Google Drive and Apple's iCloud and take advantage of Amazon's Cloud Drive.

Now, changes to US law mean the authorities can access this information almost on-demand.

Changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was first brought in in 2008 but was amended last year, allow the US security services to access data belonging to non-US citizens that is stored on American systems.

Applaud

Google, Apple and Amazon's cloud services are by far the most popular such schemes in Ireland and are used by most internet-connected people in the country.

Apple, for example, gives users the option to back up their files on their Mac, iPad or iPhone to iCloud when setting up a new device. Google Drive is offered in a similar way to anyone starting up a smartphone that runs its Android operating system. Amazon's service, meanwhile, is offered to people when they set up a Kindle e-reader or tablet.

A Google spokesman played down the revelation, but admitted it could be done.

"It is possible for the US (and European) governments to access certain types of data via their law enforcement agencies," he said.

"We think this kind of access to data merits serious discussion and more transparency, which is why we publish details of law enforcement requests made to us.

"But the reality is that the challenges around law enforcement require new, transatlantic answers – and so we applaud the efforts currently being made by the EU and the US."

The data can be accessed without a search warrant, but even at that, Google is believed to look for a court order before it hands over any data.

Google says it received 21,389 requests last year for user data from the authorities; it complied in around two-thirds of those cases.

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