Protect Our Online Privacy: LEADs Act 2015


With each passing second of the clock, your ability to protect your privacy on the Internet diminishes unless Congress acts on a critical piece of legislation titled the “Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad” Act. Known as the LEADs Act, the bill is a response to the Obama Administration’s attempt to grab data from any cloud computing systems - located anywhere in the world.

Unless Congress acts to fight back against yet another imperialist power grab, this action by Obama’s Department of Justice (DoJ) will create a slippery slope where your private data will become subject to the prying eyes of any foreign government - and there will be nothing you can do to stop it.

The issue stems from a criminal investigation by the US government into the actions of an Irish citizen who stored computer information on a cloud-based storage system housed by an Irish company on the Emerald Isle. The company, however, was a subsidiary of Microsoft. “Microsoft is an American company”, is the thin excuse DOJ is clinging to as it attempts to force Microsoft to seize the information. DoJ slapped Microsoft with a questionable warrant which in an effort to protect the privacy of their users, Microsoft has chosen to defy.

Traditionally and historically, if the United States (or any other country) have needed information residing in another country, it would rely on Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). The US would request a subpoena be issued by the foreign government who would process the request and hand the material over to the United States DoJ. Problem solved. Despite the fact that the United States and Ireland have just such an agreement in place but the Obama Administration has chosen to ignore this long-standing agreement just to take the easier, and legally questionable route. The dispute is making its way through the courts and the courts, thus far, have unreasonably sided with the federal government’s jurisdictional power grab. The Supreme Court will now consider whether to take the case. Thankfully, some in Congress are not waiting for the court to act.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and more than 40 fellow Conservative Members of the U.S. House have introduced the LEADs Act of 2015. The bill skillfully walks the line between the needs of law enforcement, individuals Internet privacy and American competitiveness. The Act empowers U.S. warrants to reach data owned by U.S. citizens whether stored here in the US or on the cloud anywhere around the globe. However, if the data is owned by a foreign citizen, who is not living in the U.S. and the data is stored overseas - even if stored on the network of a US company - then Obama’s DoJ would have to comply with the law of the country in which the data is stored.

Unless Congress passes this law, our individual privacy is at risk. It means that any other government could - and would - do the same. Any material you have written, read or downloaded would be open to review by any country operating under the same principles. If your material is stored or even backed up anywhere on the cloud anywhere but the US, any foreign government - even Russia, China or North Korea - could reach out and easily demand access to your files. And while companies from anywhere around the globe might fight to protect their users’ private data, American companies working overseas would be at a major competitive disadvantage as they would be unable to oppose this action. Virginia’s own Rep. Bob Goodlatte can have major influence on the bill. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he has the opportunity to stop this overreach by the Obama Administration. Chairman Goodlatte can and should move the legislation along quickly, before it is too late.

Privacy on the Internet has once again been threatened by the Obama White House. The time has come to act to restore a sense of balance between privacy and law enforcement.

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