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Microsoft Seeks New Legal Framework For Cloud

The company wants to see laws that strengthen privacy and security and encourage more consistent international data policies.

Microsoft is asking Congress to pass new legislation to regulate cloud computing, Brad Smith, the company's general counsel, announced Wednesday in an address at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Specifically, Microsoft is proposing what it calls the Cloud Computing Advancement Act, which would make changes to three major areas of Internet policy: privacy, security, and the international legal framework.

"We need government to modernize the laws, adapt them to the cloud, and adopt new measures to protect privacy and promote security," Smith said. "There is no doubt the future holds even more opportunities than the present, but it also contains critical challenges that we must address now if we want to take full advantage of the potential of cloud computing."

The government has already signaled some interest in these issues. For example, a Federal Trade Commission lawyer said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commussion last month that it was analyzing the privacy and security implications of cloud computing. However, a long tug of war over how much and whether to regulate Internet technologies could complicate efforts at significant reform.

First, Microsoft is urging a number of changes to privacy law by updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was passed more than 23 years ago. That law has been criticized by the World Privacy Forum and the Center for Democracy and Technology. The groups oppose rules that, for example, give more privacy protection to e-mails that have been read than those that have not, and that allow the government to request records from service providers in some situations.

"Americans take for granted that, except in the plots on popular television shows, the government typically cannot come into their homes without showing them a valid search warrant," Smith said. "But the courts have cast doubt on whether the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides this protection, applies to information that is transferred to a third party for storage or use."

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