The great thing about cloud computing is that no matter where you are, your files are just there. It turns out they’re just there for law enforcement too, as two Google Docs-using New York spammers recently found out.
In a case Wired‘s calling “the first publicly acknowledged search warrant benefiting from a suspect’s reliance on cloud computing”, FBI agents quietly seized incriminating spreadsheets from diet supplement-peddling spammers’ Google accounts. In this case, the FBI had obtained a search warrant which allowed them to get the files from Google directly, as opposed to showing up at the spammers’ homes to confiscate their hard drives (and thus alerting them of the investigation.)
But what's worrying groups like the EFF is that there's some ambiguity as to whether or not a warrant is needed to seize cloud data at all. According to the 1986 Stored Communications Act, the government can access an individual's cloud data where there is "reasonable grounds" to do so, whereas obtaining a search warrant to obtain that individual's physical hard drives requires a more convincing "probable cause".
A Google spokesperson said that the company is making an effort to inform users when their data is requested by a third party, though the spammer plaintiffs in this case said that they had received no word from Google that their documents were being searched. There's no doubt that cloud computing makes users' lives easier. But it looks like it might make law enforcement officers' lives a little bit easier, too.
Image credit Jeezney