Execs push to clear stormy privacy skies of cloud computing

Tuesday - 10/12/2010, 1:15pm EDT

When you store important information on a cloud computing system, what kind of legal protection can you expect? The protection isn't the same for data stored on your personal home computer, and top cloud vendors say it's time for that to change.

Recently, representatives from top cloud vendors like Google, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Salesforce.com and Rackspace urged a congressional committee to clear the stormy skies of cloud computing protections. They're pushing Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 and clarify confusing and outdated legal rights, which are deterring people from using cloud services.

A Microsoft representative told the committee that many users store highly confidential business plans, customer lists and trade secrets on the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite. The representative told the committee the users are "very concerned" about privacy risks from moving sensitive information from local to remote storage.

Under the ECPA, law enforcement agencies don't need a court-issued warrant to get the contents of e-mail and other data stored on cloud-based services, even though they would if the email was stored on a laptop or printed out and kept in a desk.

Also under the ECPA, warrants aren't needed to access unopened email that's stored with a vendor for longer than 180 days. Although law enforcement agencies do need approval from the court to access unopened email less than 180 days old.