Hatch introduces bipartisan bill to clarify cross-border data policies

Hatch introduces bipartisan bill to clarify cross-border data policies
© Greg Nash

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) on Monday introduced a bill aimed at creating a clearer framework for law enforcement to access data stored in cloud computing systems.

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Hatch’s bill is aimed at making it easier for U.S. officials to create bilateral data sharing agreements that allow them to access data stored overseas and also for foreign law enforcement to access data stored on U.S. firms’ servers.

The legislation, known as the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act, is co-sponsored by Sens. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCongress must fill the leadership void Congress headed toward unemployment showdown Trump declines to say if he's 'standing by' nominee under investigation MORE (D-Del.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate confirms Ratcliffe to be Trump's spy chief Abrams announces endorsements in 7 Senate races Schumer dubs GOP 'conspiracy caucus' amid Obama-era probes MORE (R-S.C.) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Judiciary Committee calls for national safety guidelines amid liability hearing Democrats ask for investigation of DOJ decision to drop Flynn case McConnell under mounting GOP pressure to boost state aid MORE (D-R.I.).

Federal law currently doesn’t specify whether the government can demand that U.S. companies give it data they have stored abroad. The CLOUD Act would amend this, likely impacting Microsoft’s pending Supreme Court case over data it has stored in Ireland. A lower court has previously ruled that Microsoft doesn’t have to turn over data stored overseas, following a request for it to do so by the Department of Justice.

Microsoft CEO Brad Smith praised the legislation in a tweet, calling it an “important step toward enhancing & protecting privacy while reducing international legal conflicts.”

Multiple technology trade associations that lobby for Microsoft and other companies signed a letter supporting the legislation.

“The bill would establish a clear statutory right for providers to challenge an order that would create a conflict of law with a qualifying foreign government — that is, a foreign government that has a reciprocal agreement with the U.S.,” the associations wrote. “These provisions would greatly improve cooperation and dialogue among countries.”

Experts outside of the industry have also welcomed the bipartisan legislation, saying that it brings needed clarification over law enforcement’s access to foreign data.

"This is a much-needed piece update to the law with long-term benefits to privacy and security. It ensures the United States can, pursuant to a warrant issued based on a finding of probable cause, lawfully access communications content needed to effectively fight crime,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch.

Daskal argued that the consistency the CLOUD Act would create would not just help U.S. law enforcement, but also provide a clear set of protections for U.S. citizen’s data as well.