Your data may not be yours

2013-06-04 08:00
(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Durban - With the rise in companies and individuals making use of internet cloud services to store and manage data, the question of "Who owns the data?" becomes important.

The answer though, is not as easy as it might suggest. Just because an individual has uploaded the data, doesn't mean they have sole access to it.

"It's not such a simple answer. The real answer is that no-one really knows, and that it a problem in itself," JJ Milner, managing director of Global Micro Solutions told News24 about the sovereignty of data.

The issue is subject to legal wrangling and in SA, even though companies can typically put data in the internet cloud for lower cost than local storage, it may expose them to security risks.

"If someone is trying to enforce their position in a foreign jurisdiction, they will claim that the data is managed by that sovereign area, and similarly the person in the opposing country will have a different view and falls in the realm of private international law," said Milner.


Some firms have argued that encryption of the data could solve the problem of security, but mass encryption of data could attract a higher cost premium.

Milner though, said that encryption provided a valuable let-off for companies who may have to face legal requirements to hand over data to authorities in a foreign territory.

"If you encrypt the data in a foreign territory, and I'm talking about Europe, and the encryption keys are held in South Africa, then you can only be compelled by South African authorities to hand over those encryption keys, practically speaking.

"If, on the other hand, the encryption keys are held by a European partner, then that's the law that would practically govern their data," Milner said.

Google was recently ordered to hand over user data to the FBI under the agency's "national security letters" which do not require judicial oversight.

"We are disappointed that the same judge who declared these letters unconstitutional is now requiring compliance with them," said Kurt Opsah, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation about the decision, though Google has the right to appeal.


The implications are far broader than companies and their user data: It may impact of individuals' personal data hosted in an internet cloud e-mail server or even Facebook or Twitter feeds.

In countries where there is popular discontent with the government, authorities may use access to data to identify and prosecute individuals for exercising their opinion.

Milner said that cases such as these illustrate that data in a foreign country may be subject to that country's law.

"There've been a lot of cases where the US government has tried to enforce their position to hand over data to them. As it stands right now in US law, if you are a US company in a foreign jurisdiction, US law applies to you.

"So Microsoft, even though they may house data in the EU, have to hand over data no matter where they are, because they're an American company."

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