Thursday, February 2, 2012
The changing technological world continues to create new questions of legal ethics. The Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility has produced a detailed 20-page ethics opinion on the subject. Formal Opinion 2011-200, Ethical Obligations For Attorneys Using Cloud Computing/Software As A Service While Fulfilling The Duties Of Confidentiality And Preservation Of Client Property. It examines the state of the law on the use of cloud computing for storage of potentially sensitive documents and data.
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania offers this description of the report:
The opinion quotes with approval a definition of “cloud computing” as “a fancy way of saying stuff’s not on your computer.” Forms of cloud computing considered by the Committee include web-based email, online data storage, software-as-a-service (“SaaS”), platform-as-a-service (“PaaS”), infrastructure-as-a-service (“IaaS”), Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (“Amazon EC2”), and Google Docs.
The opinion sets forth an extensive discussion of both the benefits and risks of off-site data storage and access both from computers and portable devices such as smart phones. It includes examination of ethics opinions and other resources both from Pennsylvania and national sources discussing this and related issues. Those looking for practical advice should pay particular attention to pages 8 through 10, in which the Committee provides a long list of specific precautions and questions to ask in the development of an office’s data storage practices. The Committee also discusses the risks and precautions necessary in the use of web-based email services.