Ethics of Storing and Sharing Information in the Cloud

Fluffy clouds over happy trees.

Fluffy clouds over happy trees.

In yesterday's Tech Tuesday blog post, we looked at news stories about the consequences of not knowing how to use basic technology. Keeping pace with current events, we draw your attention to another example from Paul Manafort's woe. While out on bail and awaiting trial on his federal conspiracy and money-laundering charges, Mr. Manafort was further indicted for obstructing justice and conspiring to do so by influencing the testimony of potential witnesses. He was caught using the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp in order to secretly communicate with people he expected to testify in his case. Unintentionally documenting his deception, he accidentally automatically backed up those WhatsApp communications to his iCloud account, providing an access point for authorities to obtain the messages. The end-to-end encryption capabilities of WhatsApp were rendered pointless when he uploaded an unencrypted copy of the transcript to the cloud.

"The Cloud" refers to shared storage and system resources made commercially available through the magic of the Internet. Essentially, rather than using your own space and materials to store information, either electronically or in physical files, you can store your information using someone else's space and materials. But unlike the old days when your file boxes might be hauled off in a truck to a warehouse where you could request to have them pulled on demand and driven back to your office, information stored in the cloud is available immediately, 24/7, as long you have Internet access and your login credentials. 

This has obvious appeal for lawyers, especially attorneys in small practices, who in the past were forced to dedicate a substantial portion of office space to document retention. Still, the ethical implications of simply passing client materials off to the control of a third part gives pause. As state bar associations weigh in, cloud computing is an increasingly legitimate way to retain attorney work product, but lawyers must know how to vet cloud services and otherwise hold up their end of the bargain.

A great way to learn more, and to earn free Texas Ethics CLE credit from the comfort of your own home, is to watch "The Ethics of Cloud Computing" as part of the Harris County Law Library Legal Tech Institute "Learn on Demand" series. Check it out today!