Companies that use Gmail abroad break the law because PATRIOT makes it possible for US spooks to spy on Google

Google's email and collaboration tools are facing legal problems outside of the USA, thanks to the USA Patriot Act spying bill. Google offers universities, hospitals and companies Gmail, calendar and document collaboration tools, but all the material hosted on Google's servers can be legally spied upon by the US government under the loosest of controls, thanks to the USA Patriot Act.

But many countries' laws impose a duty of care upon companies to protect their customers' or stakeholders' information from interception. By using Gmail and related services, these companies arguably break their countries' privacy laws, because they can't be sure that their customers' info isn't being slurped up by the US government's Soviet-style information hoover.

At Lakehead, the deal with Google sparked a backlash. "The [university] did this on the cheap. By getting this free from Google, they gave away our rights," said Tom Puk, past president of Lakehead's faculty association, which filed a grievance against Lakehead administration that's still in arbitration.

Professors say the Google deal broke terms of their collective agreement that guarantees members the right to private communications. Mr. Puk says teachers want an in-house system that doesn't let third parties see their e-mails.

Some other organizations are banning Google's innovative tools outright to avoid the prospect of U.S. spooks combing through their data. Security experts say many firms are only just starting to realize the risks they assume by embracing Web-based collaborative tools hosted by a U.S. company, a problem even more acute in Canada where federal privacy rules are at odds with U.S. security measures.

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