I was wondering ... when I upload a file to, say, Dropbox, does anybody personally check it to see what it is?

Say I upload a copy of my Blu-ray movie to cloud storage ... will anyone check, and could they possibly tell law enforcement that I uploaded a digital copy online?

Or is it all 100% automated, and nobody actually looks at anything, leaving the process entirely to software and hardware with no human intervention?

Some guy told me that he stores tons of illegal movies, games, etc. online in cloud storage encrypted and nobody can find out what he has there since he encrypted it offline and then uploaded the encrypted block of data online.

If I were to upload copies of my movies (so that in case I lose the actual disks and not wanting to fill my hard disk up with so many gigabytes of data) online, should I be concerned with anyone checking the files one-by-one? Or am I thinking in the stone ages here?

Because IF nobody did check personally what's hosted on your cloud storage/etc., like Box.com where they don't even know where your files are hosted and nobody watches them/checks it, isn't this illegal haven? If nobody checks it, you could have anything there as long as nothing calls for analyzing, correct?

Box.com claims that they host your data cross virtual servers, other companies' servers, etc. In that event your data is flowing around all over the place and nobody is actually "watching" or "checking" to see what you uploaded, meaning I could post, say, a video of someone I murdered (kidding) online and nobody without any lead would know this because the file would not be checked on their side.

PS: I don't mean "check" as in determine file format, etc. I mean check as in actually seeing what a file is, contains, such as viewing a photo, video, sound, text file, etc.

2 Answers 2


If files are encrypted and that encryption is done competently, then the contents cannot be inspected by third parties. Crucially, this requires (in your situation) that the encryption is done on your computer, with a key (or password) that you keep for yourself, and do not send to anybody else, in particular the people that host the file storage cloud system.

Of course, if the file name is "video-of-me-killing-colonel-Mustard-with-the-candlestick.encrypted" then a policeman with a pair of functioning neurons might get somehow suspicious about the file contents, even if the encryption prevents him from actually looking at the contents.

From a business point of view, it seems highly implausible that anybody checks file contents manually(*), on a general basis, on big cloud-based storage system. This would be astronomically too expensive. However, if you, personally, have shown up on the radar of a law enforcement agency, that may motivate them enough to (get a search warrant and) have a look at your files.

(*) However they may automatically look for files with byte-to-byte identical contents to known contents whose copy is legally restricted in some way. For instance, ISO images for the installation DVD of some software. It suffices to compute a hash on each file, and lookup the hash in some database of known hashes.

  • Wouldn't law enforcement need a password to get into my accounts though? I could deny providing it, leaving them without absolute proof of anything. The website is not legally able to provide my password to law enforcement without extreme reason to believe anything, which is very, very unlikely, no? I mean it's not like anyone is "watching" closely into people's activity first-hand, and ISPs only need to keep log data for one year, meaning after that nothing can be proven if it's deleted, so there's little concern in this, right?
    – sleepma
    Jul 18, 2014 at 20:07
  • 1
    Password protection on file storage system is just an access control; the files still are there, ready to be read by any sysadmin on the server side. If you want a storage system where the sysadmins cannot read files, then the files must be encrypted on the client computer with a password or key that never goes to the server.
    – Tom Leek
    Jul 18, 2014 at 20:28
  • Depending on your country, you may be forced to give up your key. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_disclosure_law or motherboard.vice.com/read/… Jun 30, 2016 at 12:12

Depending on the data-protection laws of your country and that of your hoster the files that you store in cloud are your files. That means: storing a blue-ray movie in the cloud is - from the perspective of law - nothing else than storing it on your local hard-drive.

Additionally: Since files you put into your cloud drive (say for personal backups) are not accessibly by anyone else other than you there is no problem with that. The point where it turns illegal if you share these files with friends or other people (not neccessarily though the internet).

If you do share the files (say thorugh a warez-site) the creator of the movie/game/music would have to find out and charge you for it. And you can be sure that this will happen.

TL;DR: As long as only you can access the files without breaking law (e.g. someone stealing your Box.com password) everything is fine.

EDIT: Note that in a lot of countries it is illegal to possess certain pornography.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .