6 Ways to Protect Yourself from the CLOUD Act
Online privacy was dealt a major blow at the end of March 2018 when the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act was added in the near the end of a 2,232 page budget bill.
The CLOUD Act was never voted on by the US Congress or even reviewed. Instead it was slipped into page 2,201 of a $1.3 trillion spending bill, which was voted on as a single entity.
However, the repercussions of the CLOUD Act changes the way that government officials can obtain your data. It gives the US and foreign governments the opportunity to request data without a warrant.
Fear not, all hope is not lost, at vpnMentor we have come up with a list of things you can do to help maintain your privacy and remain anonymous online.
What is the CLOUD Act?
So what exactly is this privacy harming legislation that Congress felt the need to slip into an unrelated bill in order to get it passed?
It all started several years ago, with a lawsuit involving a criminal investigation into an Irish citizen. The US government had a warrant and subpoenaed Microsoft for data that was stored on their Irish servers. Microsoft refused to hand over the information, claiming the servers weren’t based in the United States and therefore they were under no obligation to respect the warrant. The case has been dragging on for four years.
Fast forward to present day, under the new CLOUD Act, the US government no longer needs a warrant and Microsoft must comply with the request and hand over the data. Microsoft is already on record saying that there is no need to continue fighting in this case, and they will hand over the data to the authorities.
There are two main provisions in the bill:
- Permission is granted to any law enforcement, from local police to federal agencies, to access “the contents of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information” regardless of where the data is stored. Provided the company is US based, they will be compelled to hand over the data, even if the server is in a foreign country.
- The President of the United States will be able to enter into “executive agreements” with other countries, allowing them access to data stored outside of the US, without due process. That data can then be used to implicate US citizens, even though it was collected without a warrant.
This law is scary for citizens since it violates your privacy.
Imagine a foreign government investigates one of their citizens and requests access to their data on a social network such as Facebook. Facebook will be obligated to hand over all the information, and this could include information on US citizens.
Those foreign government will then be able to just hand over all the data to their US counterparts, without any warrant needed.
You can read the entire CLOUD Act here – just scroll down to page 2,201
What Can You Do?
We aren’t ready to give up on our right to privacy, and we hope you aren’t either. We gathered a list of tips that can help protect your data from different governments. This list includes alternatives to popular sites and services that we recommend you start using to help keep your activity anonymous.
Always use a VPN
The first step to protecting your privacy is to purchase a quality VPN and make sure that it’s on when you’re browsing.
Using a VPN is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting your online privacy because it masks your IP address, which makes you essentially invisible online. It will also use different security protocols to encrypt your data, making it next-to-impossible for the government to understand the information they might gather. You can read more about what a VPN can do for you here.
Not all VPN’s are created equal, so make sure the VPN you use has leak protection, a strict zero logging policy, and is located in a country that is not part of the Five Eyes Alliance (or the expanded 14 eyes). We highly recommend using ExpressVPN, which is located in the British Virgin Islands, or NordVPN, which is based in Romania. Both VPN providers have great security protocols and have proven that they do not log data.
Facebook’s credibility has taken a huge hit over the past few months as more and more details of the Cambridge Analytica scandal come out. It was recently reported that over 87 million Facebook users had their personal data improperly shared.
Facebook data is a literal gold mine for law enforcement officials who want dirt on a potential suspect. Someone’s likes, friends, groups, chats, and posts can definitely be used as evidence, and it seems logical that investigators would turn to request data this type of data. With the passing of the CLOUD Act, acquiring that information will be quick and easy. The only solution is to leave the social media giant and delete your Facebook account as quickly as possible.
Get rid of Dropbox
DropBox may be the biggest name in the file-sharing space, but it is far from the most secure. The company has been plagued with several major security breaches over the past few years.
If you value your privacy, then create an account at SpiderOak, which was endorsed by none other than Edward Snowden. Despite being based in the US, SpiderOak users have no reason to fear that the government will be reading their documents anytime soon. Even if they turn over their servers, the files are all encrypted and only the user controls the keys to unlock the files.
Avoid Cloud Storage
The cloud, not to be confused with the CLOUD Act, has some great features. It makes it easy to access your files anywhere and on multiple devices. The downside is that your documents, photos, or personal data, can be accessed on a number of servers. With the new CLOUD Act, any law enforcement can potentially obtain that information without requiring a warrant.
If you have to use to the cloud, find a service like Tresorit that includes end-to-end encryption and is located outside the US and in a country that is not part of the Five Eyes alliance. If you are going to avoid the cloud, we recommend encrypting your documents with VeraCrypt, which creates encrypted backups on a local disk for you.
Replace your Gmail account with ProtonMail
Can you imagine if you receive an email from an old college friend, and because of that, all your emails are turned over to the government for some light reading. That’s what can happen if you use Gmail, Yahoo mail, or any of the other leading free email services. ProtonMail is completely anonymous; there is no personal information needed to create the account. They don’t save IP addresses, and all email address are encrypted with end-to-end encryption.
The icing on the cake is the company is located in Switzerland and therefore protected by the strict Swiss privacy laws. The creators of ProtonMail have also developed ProtonVPN which is a solid VPN that can integrate with TOR and provide a very high level of anonymity. Read our complete review of ProtonVPN here.
Avoid Google Search
Google, along with Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, are big supporters of the CLOUD Act, which means that they’ll be more than happy to turn over your data should the request arrive at their offices. Google probably knows you better than you know yourself. Who knows what crazy things you might have searched for while you were drunk one evening? Do you really want that information turned over to your local government?
While Google definitely runs the most popular search engine, there are quality alternatives, such as StartPage which will give you Google’s results but with extra layers of security and privacy. DuckDuckGo, is another great alternatives, as they don’t store any user data, and would therefore have nothing of value to hand over should a request be made.
Protecting Privacy is Hard, But Possible
It’s becoming harder and harder to remain anonymous online, but with legislation such as the CLOUD Act, it becomes even more imperative to cover your tracks.
We aren’t suggesting that you go off the grid completely and wear the proverbial aluminum foil cap. Just be cautious and take the necessary precautions. The first step is to get a VPN that will protect your anonymity and allow you the freedom to stay online without fear of being snooped on. Read the reviews and find the best VPN to protect your privacy.