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Rethinking The Cloud In A Surveillance State

Big Brother (1984)Big Brother (1984)

When you decide to start your own business, which typically happens right after you invent something new and exciting, one of the decision you typically have to take these days is whether you will host all your digital infrastructure, or whether you will trust an online cloud provider with your data. This may include things like emails, calendar information, contacts, and even shared documents. There are a lot of good options on both sides. If you prefer to host your own data, then you can buy a couple of servers, set a SharePoint installation, Microsoft Exchange for email, and some VPNs for your employees. This does involve some costs and IT expertise. However, the cloud offers some really appealing solutions. For example, Google Apps is very inexpensive and gives you everything through a portal you may already be familiar with, GMail. You get several Gigs of space in the cloud for your documents, email and your very own business portal.

 However, cost and convenience are no longer the only criteria for many people. With the recent NSA surveillance leaks, a lot of people are starting to wonder whether hosted solutions are worth it. One particular consultant recalls a discussion he had with an European company which was starting its online infrastructure. He tried to get them to use Google Apps because it was easy and cheap, and when the European executives worried about confidential business documents being spied upon, he claimed that nothing like that would happen in the US. Now, he is no longer so certain that the proper warrants, laws and procedures would be followed, since the company is outside the US and the government would have all the excuses it needs to spy on those documents.

 This fact is heightened when considering that these types of secret FISA orders, initially designed to fight against terrorism, have been shown to be used for a wide variety of purposes. Just this past week we were told that Google handed out years of private emails from a Wikileak supporter under such an order. This is someone who was never convicted of a crime, and wasn't even suspected of being any type of terrorist. He simply moderated an online chatroom used by Wikileak members, showing that even US citizens can be targeted by politically motivated hunts under these secret acts. So when you make that great invention and decide to start a web site, online business and email server, will you go the hosted route, or will you handle your data yourself?