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President Trump approves law that eases authorities’ access to data stored abroad

TAKING TIME out if his busy inflammatory tweeting schedule, President Trump has signed into law a bill that gives US law enforcement easier access to data stored abroad.

The legislation was approved by the House of Representatives without much racket, but will allow US authorities to seize emails and other personal information from the online services which store their data beyond its borders; think Google, Microsoft, Facebook and other, who all have data centres in Ireland.

The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act outlines regulations to how the US authorities can go about collecting data stored overseas, and effectively lowers the barrier for data requests, as well as allowing the US to setup agreements to pass on data stored on its soil to criminal investigators in other nations without the courts or Congress approval.

The new law replaces the previous one that allowed for cross-border access to data providing the requests were approved by the Senate and vetted by the US Department of Justice.

The likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google all approved of the new law as its predecessor made requesting data a cumbersome process; Microsoft’s president Brad Smith noted it adds clarification to the law and creates a “modern legal framework for how law enforcement agencies can access data across borders”.

Tech firms can, under the new legislation, refuse to grant a data request if they believe it’s going to be used by authorities to hamper opposition politicians and censor journalists. But this puts a lot of onus on the tech firms to do the right thing rather than rely on independent oversight.

Unsurprisingly, privacy advocates aren’t so chipper about the new law, noting that it could enable foreign authorities to commit human rights abuse by easing their access to their citizen’s data even though it’s stored beyond their borders.

And there’re concerns that the law enables agreements between national authorities that bypass the protections and oversight afforded by US courts; there would be no need to inform local governments or users when data is being accessed, thereby reducing the level of scrutiny such data requests would have.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation highlighted that the law doesn’t place adequate limits on the severity of a crime that data requests can apply to either.

What with the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal in full swing, and Apple coming out in favour of new data regulations, it doesn’t look like concerns over data access and sharing are going away anytime soon. µ

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