Hey you, get off of my cloud

April 27, 2012

YouTube, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Picnik, Google, Amazon … What’s not to like about the cloud?

Cloud computing means fast, convenient, on-demand network access to shared resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services). It’s speed and accessibility are wonderful, but what if your lawyer is using it to store your confidential data?

That’s the question Sara Jane Hughes asks in “Red Skies in the Morning: Professional Ethics at the Dawn of Cloud Computing.”  In the article, Hughes, a University Scholar and Fellow in Commercial Law at the Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, and attorney co-author Roland L. Trope examine cloud storage from a legal ethics point of view.

The price of our instant access and connectivity is increased vulnerability of sensitive data. Security risks and ethical problems abound, the co-authors note. For example, a lawyer may inadvertently tweet about her law firm or practice without including a required “attorney advertising” notice, or perhaps the tweet might make a 140-character comment about an ongoing trial that turns out to have real potential for prejudicing the proceedings. And Twitter isn’t the only dangerous ground—think Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, the list goes on.

Hughes and Trope write that “routinely keeping abreast of new communications technologies is an increasingly important part of the practice of law.” Keeping up is, in fact, an ethical obligation, they say, tasking lawyers with learning how new technologies work and identifying the “risks that may arise from their use and misuse, particularly by clients, lawyers, and law firms.”

Our instant media, cloud-based, digital world has us leaping from platform to new social media platform, but Hughes and Trope caution lawyers to slow down and use greater care.

“Each new communications technology brings with it a professional responsibility for using the technology in a manner consistent with counsel’s ethical obligations,” they write, “however inconvenient and contrary to our culture’s social customs such caution may appear to be.”

Read more on Hughes’s work on the ethics of e-commerce here.