Auscert 2012: Patriot Act FUD overstated says IT lawyer

Slowly changing attitudes in the government and private sector are contributing more to inhibiting the growth of cloud computing than any real risks posed by laws such as America’s Patriot Act, according to IT lawyer Nick Abrhams.

Abrahams, a partner in the firm Norton Rose, says that the act doesn’t change the situation that already existed, while being a “knee-jerk” reaction, Abrahams told delegates at AusCERT–as far as it relates to personal data of Australian citizens.

On the one hand, he said, the act itself constrains the data that can be requested. It is limited to information “relating to terrorist or alleged terrorist activities”, so information like Australia’s PCEHRs (personally controlled electronic health records) would be excluded; and second, because where information handover is required, the Patriot Act changes little: American organisations like the FBI are already able to get information relevant to an investigation by requesting it from the Australian Federal Police which can seek and share information under a warrant.

On the other hand, the very slow rate of change in government attitudes (with earlier anti-cloud statements by the DSD only partially reversed this year by AGIMO’s guidelines), and wariness by bodies such as the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority are doing much more to hold back the cloud.

Given that IDC predicts that the worldwide market will pass $US70 billion by 2014, it’s feasible that large, global providers could do a better job of protecting personal data than the purely local cloud service. As Abrahams put it, “Geography and security aren’t the same thing … the fact that you can go down the street and see the data centre is somewhat irrelevant, in my point of view.”

He also noted that people often hold an irrational attitude to “data export”, since companies holding personal data about Australian citizens are already able to host that data offshore, as long as the recipient “agrees to comply with Australian privacy laws.”

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