Privacy laws have been, and always will be, a hotly debated topic. Corporations, governments, and citizens all have differing opinions when it comes to how private users’ information should be. New legislation is set to be signed next month that will give the UK access to user data from Facebook, WhatsApp, and other US-based tech firms. This latest development is convoluted and sure to spark privacy fears.
This is the first CLOUD Act agreement that will be signed by the US and the UK. The CLOUD Act, which came into effect last March, is a convoluted piece of federal legislation that boils down to this: US-based technology companies must provide data to the government, even if the data is not stored on US soil. This new legislation does not grant government entities access to anything new. Your encrypted messages and attachments are still safe from prying eyes. Instead, once this treaty is signed, the UK courts will gain the authority to issue the same requests the US does. This means they can gather information such as your IP address, contacts list, phone numbers, and avatar photos.
Which brings us to today, on the precipice of the first CLOUD Act agreement being signed by the US and UK. This agreement would allow UK courts to issue requests equivalent to US courts, but it DOES NOT grant them access to anything a US court can't get already.
— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) September 29, 2019
Some earlier reports erroneously claimed that encrypted data from Facebook and WhatsApp would become available under this new legislation. While that data is certainly of interest to governments, it's not part of the US/UK treaty. The Cloud Act doesn't include any provision requiring encryption backdoors or banning the use of encryption by consumers.
The bill had the support of Microsoft, Apple, and Google. However, many civil rights groups thought the Act was a breach of privacy rights. If this is signed next month, it’ll be interesting to see if further agreements are made with other countries. While we may not all agree on how much information should be shared between corporations and governments, we can all agree that this issue won’t go away anytime soon.