Report from Cloud World Forum Latin America: Perspectives on NSA PRISM

Perhaps the most fascinating benefit to attending conferences outside the US is to get the non-US perspective on American issues. I was interested, therefore, in the audience’s perspective on the recent NSA spying scandal when I attended Cloud World Forum Latin America in Brazil earlier this week.

The general consensus among this Brazilian audience was that it wasn’t safe to store information in US-based data centers, because American authorities had the ability and willingness to access such information without the permission of the owner.

However, this predictable perspective didn’t sit well with everyone in the room. A few people understood that every country spies on its neighbors, and that there was no reason to believe Brazilian authorities weren’t conducting their own intelligence operations similar to the NSA.

But perhaps the most critical issue for this audience were the regulatory impacts of geolocation. In other words, would putting your data in the US, or any other country for that matter, violate regulations? In Brazil, apparently, there is a patchwork of national and local regulations that impact where data may be stored.

As one of the few Americans in the room, I was somewhat surprised by what this audience didn’t discuss: the fact that the central controversy in the NSA spying scandal from the US perspective is whether the NSA was spying on American citizens. After all, the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects American citizens from unreasonable searches, but we’re all perfectly happy to have our government snooping around in foreigners’ emails.

The subtext behind the conversation in Brazil, therefore, was that there had been an expectation of privacy when storing information on US-based servers, presumably because US law protects the confidentiality of information generally. I guess putting your information on the same box as an American’s information somehow inherits constitutional rights simply by virtue of proximity. Perhaps the most significant impact of the NSA scandal for this Brazilian audience, therefore, was to poke holes in this misperception.

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