City of Edmonton makes a big BooBoo

Those of us who work in I.T. know that “Cloud” is the sexy new term on everyone’s lips.

The number of 20 somethings that tell me “I’m storing my things in the cloud…” is amazing.

“Cloud” just means “on a computer somewhere”.  One that’s accessible via the internet.

The Huge, World-Changing Ramifications for Canadian Businesses and Citizens

Since I’m discussing my opinion on the recent move to Google Docs by the city I live in, I’ll start with Google.

Google has billions of dollars.  They have many top-secret-ish server facilities, and certainly very good security – in terms of how secure you can be on the net.

Sadly many “non-it” muggles just don’t get it.  Here are some points to think about when considering “cloud” storage:

Where is the computer actually physically located?

Is it in the United States?

If it’s not in the United States (even if it’s in Canada or another country), is the company that owns it headquartered in the continental United States?

Recently my beloved City of Edmonton made an all-too-common decision, not based on all the facts.  They have moved all their information to Google Apps!  A short time ago, our award-winning University of Alberta (leading edge on many fronts) also went to the “Big G”.

Here’s the story on Edmonton:
(update: the story is curiously “missing” now, but you can find it on the “Internet Wayback Machine”. Just Google it.)

The Problem:

Google is secure – that’s not the point.  Google is a leading edge company – that’s also not the point.

The Point, is that IF your company’s information is stored on a computer that is in the United States, or on a machine owned by a U.S. company, the US government – any part of it – can demand all of your information – payroll, sales, city tax information, h.r. documents, legal papers, research that you’re doing, patents, potential breakthroughs (particularly in terms of the University).

All without warrant, all without notice or disclosure – pursuant to the U.S. Patriot Act.

At any time, any wing of the U.S. government can just request it.  When Google gets told to give the tax records for last year from the city of Edmonton to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service – or be closed – what do you think they’ll be doing?

I realize that to wind up one day at the Utopian “share everything, with no ramifications, and everyone acts for the greater good” of Star Trek and their information sharing – we’ll have to address these issues.

However, for the time being, if it’s decided “down south” that by housing your sales information in the US (even on a cloud like SalesForce dot com) that you’re “doing business” in the U.S. – are you prepared for some legal battle with their IRS?

The city I.T. guy said, in an Edmonton Journal story that “Google is secure” and “we’re on a friendly basis with the US…”.

Again, not the point.

They are secure – they just like themselves better than they like anyone else on earth.  If Homeland Security orders them to hand information over – they’ll be vomiting it out instantly.

You can use cloud storage – the City of Edmonton could house their own storage solutions – all on their own servers.  It’s very convenient to have central storage.

For now, they need to cancel it, and get back into Canada.  There are Canadian cloud storage companies as well.

I love the city, but need them to be safe, and make decisions based on all the right information.


My name is David but my online nick almost everywhere is Altabear. I'm a web developer, graphic artist and outspoken human rights (and by extension, mens rights) advocate. Married to my gorgeous husband for 12 years, together for 25 and living with our partner of 4 years, in beautiful Edmonton, Canada.

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