The Cloud & the Law

Article Written by Avery Phillips

Whether uploading photos on Instagram, creating do-to lists on Evernote or saving projects on Google Drive, you're storing them on the cloud. It's a universal technology becoming more and more present in our daily lives than ever before. As the social media landscape and online world grows larger, the cloud's capacity to store information is becoming bigger every day, and companies worldwide are taking notice. Many companies are now moving their business to the cloud as technology advances and improves. But some worry the cloud's access is overreaching and could lead to dangerous consequences. 

How Is Amazon Advancing Cloud-Based Technology? 

According to Mashable, Amazon created their own cloud computing platform called Amazon Web Services in 2006. The company offers online services to websites such as cloud-based storage and database services. Amazon is pushing cloud-based technology in other innovative directions, such as the development of the Amazon Key, which customers can use to unlock their front door and track package deliveries. 

Amazon is now beginning to take cloud-based technology into the realm of law enforcement and transform it into an effort to improve public safety. As Business Insider points out, the company created an application called Rekognition, which allows users to connect video surveillance systems to the platform and be able to identify and track individuals in a video or image feed. 

According to documents by the American Civil Liberties Union, this technology caught the attention of big cities such as Orlando, Florida and smaller towns such as Washington County, Oregon who signed on to utilize it in law enforcement practices. The ACLU is putting demands on Amazon to prevent governments from using Rekognition and says the technology "raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns." According to the New York Times, Orlando decided to no longer use Rekognition in law enforcement after a number of activists protested against it. 

Are We Putting Too Much Trust in the Cloud? 

The ACLU's worries about Rekognition are understandable. Having background checks and criminal records on the cloud could jeopardize the documents' safety, given the high number of security breaches in our history. In December 2013, European hackers stole 40 million credit and debit card numbers from Target customers, leading to "more than 90 lawsuits against the company for negligence and compensation," according to NPR. Critics of Rekognition fear a similar situation could arise from sensitive information like criminal records being put on the cloud.  

The ACLU worries this technology would allow people to determine who's participating in a protest and give ICE agents the power to track immigrants. "As with other surveillance technologies, these systems are certain to be disproportionately aimed at minority communities," the ACLU said. Privacy activists such as Clare Garvie are also concerned with Rekognition's impact on identification and information security. 

Garvie, an associate at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center, said in an NBC News interview that Rekognition could have a potentially dangerous impact on free-speech rights. "This raises very real questions about the ability to remain anonymous in public spaces," Garvie said.  

How Private Are My Background Checks? 

With them now potentially being put on the cloud, you may be wondering how public background checks and criminal records are. While anyone can access this information, it's a bit more difficult for non-law enforcement personnel. Citizens and companies usually have to request permission from you to access your criminal records. 

Many people often have misconceptions on what's included in a background check and a criminal record. For example, it's sometimes assumed that juvenile convictions and juvenile charges are included in a criminal record, but they are not. While a criminal record includes things such as convictions for felonies and prior arrests, background checks include details such as your marriage and divorce records, and bankruptcy records. 

Your own criminal record is available to you at your local county court and several online services. Your criminal record can also affect your job search, as employers will often look at your criminal history when determining whether or not to hire you. One misconception is if a person moves to another state, then their criminal record no longer applies to them - which is incorrect. Your criminal history still stays with you, even if you cross state lines.  

As the debate continues over whether or not cloud-based technology is invading our privacy, Amazon users are divided on this issue, with even some of the company's employees boycotting Rekognition. However you feel about cloud-based technology, its presence won't be going away any time soon, and companies will continue to use it in new and divisive ways.

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About the Author


Avery Phillips is a unicorn of a human being who loves all things relating to people and their entrepreneurial spirits. Comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian.