Senate Judiciary Committee Passes E-mail Privacy Update
1986 Law Finally Getting Revamped for Modern Age
The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that would strengthen privacy protection for e-mail, a move that's in stark contrast to the typical aggressive domestic surveillance expansion efforts by the United States government. According to the New York Times
, the new bill was sponsored by Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, and would require that law enforcement officials show probably cause and
obtain a warrant before gaining access to individual subscriber e-mail accounts.
The Justice Department and intelligence agencies have resisted the bill, which they insist will make their job harder. Most analysts -- and even many in law enforcement don't believe that's an accurate claim
, given the changes are not all that dramatic:
"I don't see anything (in the Senate bill) that's going to seriously concern law enforcement in terms of our ability to request warrants and to get the contents of the material that we need," said Joseph Cassilly, the state's attorney in Harford County, Md., and a former president of the National District Attorneys Association. "Since you've already got to get warrants for the stuff that's less than 180 days, it's obviously not an insurmountable standard."
You'll recall that there was a bit of a scuff up last week after Leahy rewrote the bill to allow 22 government agencies to snoop e-mail and online activity without a warrant. Leahy however backed off the rewrite
after the press noticed Leahy's rewrite defeated the entire point of trying to make e-mail privacy improvements. The update is expected to see significant opposition from Republicans next year, though it does have the support of many content operators like Microsoft and Google, who don't want customers going elsewhere for cloud storage out of privacy worries.
Can't take credit for this but: I was told recently that something like this would be coming, and I doubted it having read about Leahy's previous bill.
Why did this person tell me this was coming? Three words: General David Petraeus.
How many things are in emails that those Congressmen do NOT want getting easily unearthed by a reporter that sees something else and asks an FBI contact "Hey, what's going on with Senator X and Person Y?" More than a few, hm?
I have zero expectation of privacy when sending an email... ...and anyone who does, doesn't understand how email works. You compose a text message, and then send it, in the clear, where it bounces around the 'net from server to server, owned by unknown parties, an unkonwn number of hops, before finally (hopefully) reaching its destination? It's crazier to expect that form of communication to remain private than it is to expect a postal postcard to remain private, and no one expects a snailmail post card to remain confidential. But at least a post card remains in the custody of one entity (the USPS), that's answerable to the public, until it reaches its destination.