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The Capitol Building is seen from Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. in December 2017. A group of senators is trying to attach the CLOUD Act to an upcoming spending bill that needs to be passed before midnight on March 23 to avoid government shutdown, according to news reports. (Reuters/Aaron P. Bernstein)

CPJ expresses concerns with the U.S. CLOUD Act

March 20, 2018 11:00 AM ET

New York, March 20, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed its concerns with the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act and its potential to expose journalists to targeting by foreign governments. The CLOUD Act would make it easier for some foreign governments to obtain data from U.S. technology companies and allow U.S. law enforcement to access data stored around the world, according to civil liberty organizations. A group of senators is trying to attach the legislation to an upcoming spending bill that needs to be passed before midnight on March 23 to avoid government shutdown, according to a report on the news website Gizmodo.

"The CLOUD Act could make it easier for foreign governments to gather data from U.S. tech companies. This could include communications from journalists," said Alexandra Ellerbeck, CPJ's North America Program Coordinator. "Governments around the world, including many U.S. allies, have directly targeted and surveilled journalists. Despite language that alludes to human rights, the bill itself removes existing oversight for data requests and provides very few protections to ensure that governments would not gain access to communications from reporters."

The legislation calls for the executive branch to certify the human rights records of foreign governments wishing to collect data from U.S. tech companies. However, civil liberty groups said that the standards are vague and provide no mechanism for responding to rapid deterioration in human rights in the countries that have already been approved to collect data, according to an op-ed on the legal news website Lawfare. The watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation said that the CLOUD Act could also open some loopholes that would allow foreign governments to collect incidental data from U.S. citizens and then share the data with the U.S. government.

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