Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Europe Insecure about the Patriot Act

Every now and then the technology news tells us more about the state of our own country than reports on foreign affairs or the economy.  Consider a post recently filed by Zack Whittaker for the Between the Lines blog on ZDNet with the following introduction:

The Dutch government is to “basically [...] exclude” U.S. cloud providers from government IT contracts amid concerns of the reach of the Patriot Act in Europe.

To prevent sensitive citizen data from being compromised by U.S. authorities, the move to bar U.S. companies from providing cloud-based services and data processing capabilities is only a temporary measure until the European Commission changes the data protection laws.

Discussed by the European Parliament’s Privacy Platform earlier this month, the Patriot Act is being investigated by European authorities, after Gordon Frazer, managing director of Microsoft UK, exclusively told ZDNet that the Redmond-based company must comply with Patriot Act requests, and other companies with a U.S. presence must do also.

This contravenes European law, which states that organisations cannot pass on user data to a third-party outside the European zone without the users’ permission.

Does this mean that Europe is soft on terrorism?  They have as much to fear from terrorist attacks as the United States does.  They simply reject the Patriot Act philosophy that has dispensed with cool reason in favor of heated emotion.  Having had to endure attacks on their own soil, they also wonder whether the Patriot Act is really as effective as our own government seems to believe it to be.  That is why Whittaker concluded his post with the following punch line:

Last month, an article published claimed that the power to search suspects with Patriot Act invoked ‘delayed warrants’ — the ability to search without formally making warrants known to the subject, to prevent the loss of vital evidence — were used in 1,618 drug-related cases, 122 cases for fraud, but only 15 cases relating to terrorism.

This is clearly not in the same league as automobile manufacturers losing overseas business by not accommodating the need to put the steering wheel on the other side.  This addresses a broader problem of what happens when globalization “bumps into” (as Ken Auletta would put it) security.  My guess is that American cloud providers were not prepared for this particular bump or its implications, and neither was our own government.

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