In August 2011, the federal government announced plans to consolidate more than 100 different email systems used by over 300,000 employees into a single, outsourced email system. While the email transition is currently underway – Bell won the nearly $400 million contract last year – the decision quietly sparked a trade fight with the United States that placed the spotlight on the risks associated with hosting computer data outside the country.
At the heart of the dispute is the emergence of cloud computing services such as web-based email, online document storage, and photo sharing sites. These services are based on a computing infrastructure that relies on huge computer server farms and high-speed network connections that allow users to access their content from any device connected to the Internet.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that cloud computing services offer the promise of convenience and cost savings, but at a price of reduced control over your own content, reliance on third-party providers, and potential privacy risks should the data “hosted in the cloud” be disclosed to law enforcement agencies without appropriate disclosure or oversight.