Iowa State Bar ethics panel approves lawyer's use of 'cloud computing'

By Pat Murphy

The Daily Record Newswire

A lawyer's use of third party computer servers to store data does not necessarily violate a duty to protect client confidentiality, an Iowa State Bar ethics committee has concluded.

The committee addressed whether a lawyer or law firm may utilize "software as a service" or "SaaS" technologies, commonly known as "cloud computing."

In the context of a legal practice, the technology involves utilizing third party vendors to store client information on computer servers that are not owned and operated by the lawyer or firm.

Lawyers in the state questioned whether SaaS can be used in light of a state rule of professional conduct that obligates lawyers to take "reasonable precautions" to prevent confidential client information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients.

But the ethics committee concluded that the rule as written was broad enough to permit the use of SaaS, so long as the lawyer performs due diligence to assess the degree of protection that will be required with a particular service.

"Access to stored data and data protection should be taken into consideration when performing due diligence.

"Whatever form of SaaS is used, the lawyer must ensure that there is unfettered access to the data when it is needed. Likewise the lawyer must be able to determine the nature and degree of protection that will be afforded the data while residing elsewhere," the committee said.

Moreover, the committee indicated that the rule was flexible enough to take into account future technological innovations in this regard.

"It is beyond the committee's ability to conduct a detailed information technology analysis regarding accessibility and data protection used by the presently available SaaS services.

"Even if we had that ability our analysis would soon be outdated. Instead we prefer to give basic guidance regarding the implementation of the standard described in [the comment to the existing rule]," the committee said.

Published: Thu, Nov 17, 2011