Will lawyers ruin cloud computing?

Looming legal battles over privacy, security, regulation, and intellectual property have the potential to steal cloud computing's thunder

Every conference I attend has a "Legal Issues" track and cloud computing is no exception.  I work with lawyers daily, and they're an invaluable part of business, but just like egomaniacal CEOs or system administrators with God complexes, lawyers need to be checked every now and then.

On the cloud computing front, we're starting to see some of the same attitudes from the legal community that we saw during the early days of open source -- fear, uncertainty, doubt, and lawsuits. These are the same "the sky is falling!" professionals who look to profit from every new technology by scaremongering. Maybe I spoke too soon when I said worshipping cloud computing like the next magic bullet would destroy it. Maybe an overzealous legal community will take all the fun out of it for the rest of us first.

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Why am I hatin'? Recently I've been getting hit hard by law firms looking for coverage in InfoWorld and it's getting me down. I'll share a recent e-mail with you to show you what I mean. We'll leave the names out since I don't want to single anyone out (especially a lawyer, right?). I'll just call this pitcher Captain Obvious. To paraphrase the Cap'n: As cloud computing grows, and more people start using it, there are several business and legal issues that need to be addressed.  Uh ... duh? Here are the verbatim bullet points from the e-mail, one by one, so you can decide for yourself:

"Data protection -- what specific technical safeguards have been put in place to ensure adequate protection against hacking and fraud?"

You don't say. Data protection issues are omnipresent on the Internet. But with your average Joe gettign cozy with apps like Twitter, that allows various other applications "pass though" your passwords and "sift" through your data, what's the future of data protection? Or even privacy for that matter? The Internet generation has arrived and is spawning, and they have little grasp of data protection -- they share everything. Data protection is more of a technical issue than a legal issue anyway, isn't it?

Side question: Should the legal component of data protection come on the front end or the back end? I'm not sure, so I'm throwing the question out there.

"Privacy -- are the records and identities of customers and users adequately protected against access by third parties?"

See also: Internet. Or better yet, read my interview with Brad Templeton of the EFF. He knows a million times more than me and a team of lawyers combined when it comes to cloud privacy issues.

"Compliance -- do the standards, networks and protocols behind cloud computing adequately comply with all the relevant federal, state and international laws?"

OK, here I call bullshit. Listen folks, I said it in my first blog, and I'll say it again: There is no magic in the cloud. The "standards, networks and protocols behind cloud computing" are essentially the same as those that run the Internet. Maybe the legal guys should take on the Internet instead? Or wait, maybe the Internet is the cloud? Yeah, that's the ticket. I finally figured it out. You know with all of the vendor spin, it's easy for a simple mind like mine to get confused.

"IP Issues -- as companies connect legacy systems into the new cloud platforms, are they complying with existing intellectual property arrangements, licenses, and laws?"

And there's the FUD. Intellectual property arrangements plus licenses plus laws equal legal fees. It also means you'll be getting to visit beautiful East Texas where they have a great little courthouse in which you can throw your legal battle royal. For those of you who haven't had exposure to the East Texas court, it's commonly called a "rocket docket" by patent professionals. The main reason for this is that Patent litigation's so-called "trolls," businesspeople who buy patents for the sole sake of suing someone for infringement, loved East Texas when they had a weak case. Fortunately a recently issued writ of mandamus in another case is making the East Texas court system far less appealing.

Sheesh. It's like the blind looking for ways to encourage the blind to file lawsuits. What do you think? Are these new legitimate legal issues that need to be addressed? If you're running a cloud offering or using one, chime in with your comments help open a debate. To my mind, this type of legal posturing is simply lawyers jumping into an arena they think is hot.

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