Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Digital Due Process leading on e-mail privacy

Google is part of a group, Digital Due Process beginning a lobbying effort in the U.S. to modify the electronic privacy laws to require law enforcement to get search warrants before demanding access to e-mail. Other members of Digital Due process include the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform (the anti-tax group led byGrover Norquist), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Facebook Inc. (FB), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).  What an interesting and disparate group!  The aim of Digital Due process is to secure the same rights in the online world as citizens take for granted in the paper and physical world.

The law in question, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, was enacted before cloud computing, mobile devices and social networking.  Advocates for the change say that this has changed connectivity so radically that it is time to modify the statute. There are conflicting, unclear standards that are interpreted inconsistently by different courts. Some courts seem to be unclear about whether 4th Amendment protections against search and seizure apply for citizens in the online world.  Also, changes to government's surveillance powers require changes to secure some level of citizen privacy. According to a Bloomberg News report, Google has stated that more than 2/3 of the 8,438 law enforcement requests for user data they received in the last half of 2012 arrived without a search warrant.

Groups representing federal, state and local law enforcement oppose attempts to modify the act, saying it will make their jobs more difficult if they must get warrants.

You can read an in-depth description of the issues and history from a third group, the Center for Democracy and Technology.  You can also read a nice report on what is cloud computing and some of the issues at EPIC's notes from November, 2012.  Among the notes there, you will notice Google is mentioned 4 times in the news shorts at the beginning. If you read the first 3, you will see that Google's attempted changes to their privacy policy were roundly criticized and stopped because of danger to government information.  Their reports on government requests for user data are the "transparency reports" in the first note.  The report on the changes to Google's Terms of Service involved the recent consolidation of all the various Google-based services, as well as access to all the users' data and documents.   The storage of all the users' material on Google's cloud computing storage means that Google has access to all of this data.  The  EPIC report on cloud computing at the bottom of this web page is excellent and includes three examples of different sorts of providers and the problems associated and many links to other reports.

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