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Legal Issues around Cloud Computing
September 23, 2009 at 2:38 pm #81276
Blog Entry from infoseccompliance.com
Legal Implications of Cloud Computing — Part One (the Basics and Framing the Issues)
Posted on August 18th, 2009 by David Navetta
I had the pleasure of hearing an excellent presentation by Tanya Forsheit on the legal issues arising out of cloud computing during the ABA Information Security Committee’s recent meeting (at the end of July) in Chicago. The presentation resulted in a spirited debate between several attorneys in the crowd. The conversation spilled over into happy hour and became even more interesting. The end result: my previous misunderstanding of cloud computing as “just outsourcing” was corrected, and now I have a better appreciation of what “the cloud” is and the legal issues cloud computing raises.
Bottom line: this is not your father’s outsourcing relationship, and trying to protect clients with contracts may be very difficult or impossible unless the cloud computing community begins to build standards and processes to create trust. This post is not for my tech/security friends, it is for the attorneys out there, especially the general counsel and transactional attorneys who draft terms for tech contracts (e.g. outsourcing contracts, ASP contracts, software licenses, etc.). So tech friends, please cut me some slack as I completely mangle proper terminology in order to try to explain this in plain English (and of course if I get something wrong, shoot me a comment or email so I can correct — we attorneys need you on this one).
One final note to the attorneys out there: there is going to be incredible financial pressure on organizations to take advantage of the pricing and efficiency of cloud computing and if attorneys fail to understand the issues ahead of time there is a serious risk of getting “bulldozed” into cloud computing arrangements without time or resources to address some serious legal issues that are implicated.
(P.S. Special thanks to Tanya Forsheit, John Tomaszewski, Karen Worstell and Peter McLaughlin for the insight and debate).
What are the legal issues?
Transborder Data Flow Triggering Legal Obligations in Multiple Jurisdictions. This sharing and transfer of data within the cloud, the inability for anybody to easily say where the data is or has been, is the key problem that creates legal issues. An obvious problem is transborder data flow. For example under the EU Data Protection Directive, unless they take certain steps, organizations are prohibited from transferring personal information to countries that do not provide the same level of protection with respect to personal information of EU residents (the United States is one such country). A company that does its processing in the cloud may be violating EU law if data goes to servers outside of the EU to prohibited countries. Unfortunately, contracts may not be too helpful because cloud providers will not be in any position to make any contractual promises to their clients because in many cases they cannot say which countries data will be transferred to or from. So how can companies seeking the efficiency and cost savings of the cloud utilize it if, by its very nature, it leads to potential legal compliance nightmares?
“Reasonable Security” Under the Law. Then there is the issue of “reasonable security” in the cloud computing context, and potential liability arising out of security breaches in the cloud. Generally speaking if a company outsources the handling of personal information to another company they may have some responsibility to make sure the outsourcer has some level of reasonable security to protect personal and confidential information. What happens when the could is utilized? Service providers using the cloud platform essentially rely on the security of each of the cloud participants receiving personal information. That could be name brand companies like Google who are likely to have some level of adequate security, but it could also be lesser players trying to engage in business as cheaply as possible and not implementing rigorous controls. The bottom line again is that the organization seeking to do business in the cloud has no way to even perform a due diligence of “the cloud” to ensure that adequate security is in place. Moreover, cloud companies and service providers that contract directly with such companies are not likely to make any contractual promises around security since they ultimately don’t control it (or even know how good or bad it is within the cloud). Ultimately, the legal question is, what liability does a company face when there has been a security breach in the cloud that has resulted in the theft or harm of valuable or protected data?
Electronic evidence/e-discovery. Utilizing the cloud can be problematic in the litigation context. First off, when litigation ensues and a litigation hold is initiated, the organization will have to deal with a third party cloud provider in order to get at the information relevant to the litigation. It may not be easy for that provider to actually preserve the data that is needed for several reasons. For example, an organization may be using a third party software provider that itself utilizes the a cloud platform. The data subject to the litigation hold therefore may actually reside in the cloud and may not be readily accessible/preserved by the software provider. This could complicate gathering electronic evidence and responding to e-Discovery requests. Moreover, it could lead to spoliation of evidence. In addition, considering that multiple copies of data may be created, stored, recompiled, dispersed, reassembled and reused, the idea of what constitutes a “record” or a “document” for evidentiary purposes may be difficult to grapple with in the cloud.
What can lawyers do to address these issues?
Ultimately this is the big question. Can the law wrap its head around cloud computing (when frankly, the cloud computing industry itself is having difficulty defining key components of the business)? The first area to explore are contractual arrangements. Lawyers have been involved in outsourcing transactions for sometime, and have been able to address issues of relative risk between the parties. However, contracting may be much more difficult in the cloud environment because the players may not be in a position to make certain promises, and additional duties/obligations may destroy the cheap pricing model for cloud computing. In part two of this series, we dive more deeply into the legal issues around cloud computing and the necessary involvement of lawyers in this context with respect to contractual arrangements.
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