Privacy up for vote: Senate considers new electronic communication lawSubmitted by legalizeliberty on Thu, 11/29/2012 - 19:44
Members of the US Senate are expected to vote this week on a bill that would finally require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing personal emails and other digital messages stored on the cloud.
The antiquated Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 set the standard for how emails and other online correspondence is accessed by the police, but little revisions have been made in the nearly 30 years since it was first approved. During that time, technology has far outpaced the rate in which Congress works, and that is perhaps most evident in this example with the ECPA: since 1986, any emails stored on the cloud with service providers such as Google or Yahoo can be accessed without a warrant after just 180 days.
As it stands now, law enforcement officers only need to get a search warrant from a judge if an email is saved by a third-party on the digital cloud behind six months’ time. After 180 days, however, an easy to obtain court order is all that is necessary to rifle through someone’s inbox, and that’s something that requires much less convincing on the part of prosecutors.
“Email saved in web-based email systems like Yahoo for longer than six months can be accessed with an administrative subpoena, which provides less protection than a warrant,” Grover Norquist and Laura Murphy explain in an op-ed published this week in The Hill. “Similarly, no matter what privacy setting you use, sensitive and personal information — photos, private journals, Facebook pages, corporate data, draft reports — shared with third parties like Google and Facebook can be accessible by police without a judge’s approval. All the government has to do is swear it’s ‘relevant’ to an investigation.”