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As technology continues to grow in importance to U.S. manufacturers, a key business concern is keeping sensitive business information private and secure in the cloud. In order for data, business records and other electronic information to be protected against arbitrary government intrusion, federal laws must be updated to reflect the realities of cloud computing today.

The manufacturing industry is in a major period of transformation and IT modernization. More than ever, manufacturers are faced with the need to be more efficient, reduce costs and deliver higher quality products to customers around the world. Manufacturers are increasingly looking to automation and cloud technologies to help achieve these goals.

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When I bought Marlin Steel 17 years ago, the only piece of automation was an old fax machine. Not only were we a low-tech company, but the work of producing steel wire baskets was labor-intensive and dangerous. Several employees at the time were missing fingers, and one had lost an eye. Today, as a result of our investment in technology, our factory has been injury free for over 2,390 days.

As digitization and technology continue to improve plant safety, increase productivity and drive innovation, ensuring data privacy and security in the cloud is increasingly important. As business owners, we need to trust that data stored in the cloud — including e-mails, quote sheets, business plans and product designs — will be there when we want it, while not being disclosed to others without permission or knowledge. Not only is this imperative to businesses, but is one of the key pillars in the trusting relationships we have built with our customers around the world. If this trust is eroded, investments will be undermined and customer relationships destroyed.

Yet recent actions by the U.S. government forcing American technology companies to turn over private customer data and email records that are being stored at data centers located outside the U.S., are raising concerns about the strength of current digital privacy laws. In order for data, business records, and other electronic information to be protected against arbitrary government intrusion, federal laws must be updated to reflect the realities of cloud computing.

Legislation known as the LEADS Act (Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad Act of 2015) has the potential to bring our privacy protections up to date by taking into account the way technology is used today.

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Chris Coons, Orrin Hatch and Dean Heller and Reps. Tom Marino and Suzan DelBene and is gaining support. The bill aims to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986, which was created before the Internet existed broadly, and strengthen legal protections for electronic communications. The LEADS Act would require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant to access the content of digital communications from cloud computing service providers, affording data stored with third parties in the cloud the same legal protections as data stored locally in one's home or office.

In addition, the bill would require the government to cooperate with foreign governments through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process when seeking content stored abroad. This will allow the U.S. to hold other governments seeking content stored in the U.S. to the same standard and will help protect the business data of American companies against unreasonable intrusion by foreign governments.

Like other businesses, manufacturers, both in Maryland and across the country, have benefited tremendously from the strong growth and continuing innovation of the U.S. information technology (IT) industry. But in order for U.S. companies to achieve their full potential and for our nation to maintain its position at the pinnacle of innovation and competitiveness, our data, business records and other electronic information must be protected from arbitrary government intrusion. The LEADS Act will strengthen privacy in the digital age and promote trust in U.S. IT technologies worldwide, while enabling law enforcement to fulfill its public safety mission.

Drew Greenblatt is president of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore and chairman of the National Alliance for Jobs and Innovation (www.NAJI.org); his email is dgreenblatt@naji.org.

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