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U.S. Government Approves Landmark Digital Privacy Bill

By - Source: CNET | B 14 comments

Law enforcement now cannot search through email, private Facebook messages and other electronic forms of communication without a warrant.

Last week, a U.S. Senate panel approved a privacy bill that will help keep law enforcement from accessing data stored in the cloud without a warrant.

It was a victory not only for the American web surfer who uses online email and sends personal, private messages through Facebook, but for a coalition of technology firms that have urged Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to more modern 2012. The coalition, which includes technology firms Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter, have argued that consumers should have the same rights online as they do offline.

In order words, as CNET cleverly describes, law enforcement should not be able to dig through emails and private Facebook messages much like they can't search through documents stored in an office cabinet without acquiring a warrant first. To get that warrant, federal, state, and local police must  establish probable cause just like they do with offline cases.

"We have to update our digital privacy laws if we want to keep up with rapid changes in technology," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Naturally law enforcement groups, backed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, object to the idea of locking out law enforcement. Grassley tried to meet the Senate on middle ground by suggesting an amendment that would suspend privacy protections in "emergency" circumstances. That amendment was rejected, but still he persisted to argue, saying that Senators are "abdicating our duty if we do not examine the concerns raised by federal and state law enforcement."

"[Law officials have raised] important questions and ones we should be prepared to address [in an open process]", he said, "[not through] concerns that were raised in the media in the draft of the legislation that was leaked last week."

As stated, the public lashed out after a draft of the legislation proposed by Leahy was leaked, revealing that more than 22 federal agencies -- including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission – would have warrantless access to e-mail and other private communications. Leahy abandoned his draft and did not offer it up for a vote, CNET said. Instead, it has been applied to a proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act which will head to the Senate for voting next year.

One of the biggest fears about the new legislation passed is that it will slow down criminal investigations. "The proposed notice provisions would create unnecessary risks to investigations and undue burdens on law enforcement agencies given the potentially large number of cases in which delays would need to be sought and renewed," stated a letter signed by the National Sheriffs' Association, the National District Attorneys' Association, and other law enforcement groups.

CNET reports that the legislation approved by the Judiciary Committee isn't a complete win for the coalition. Service providers must now inform law enforcement in advance if they plan to tell customers that they are targets of a warrant order, order or subpoena. Police can also delay notifications of being served for two 180-day periods – the original bill only allowed for two 90-day periods.

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  • 14 Hide
    robertking82881 , December 6, 2012 5:28 AM
    nothing stoping them for doing it any way . and theres gonna be a loophole or one made. or they will hire some one off the record to look in to some one to get a warrant on . the law go's beyond the law all the time
  • 14 Hide
    chewy1963 , December 6, 2012 5:50 AM
    I like that this passed, however, I don't like that they " Instead, it has been applied to a proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act which will head to the Senate for voting next year." That needs to be stopped as well.

    I also don't like that police can serve a warrant to your ISP and make the ISP delay for almost a year before they can notify you. What kind of BS is that? If your information is being looked at under a warrant, you should be able to know that immediately!
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    robertking82881 , December 6, 2012 5:28 AM
    nothing stoping them for doing it any way . and theres gonna be a loophole or one made. or they will hire some one off the record to look in to some one to get a warrant on . the law go's beyond the law all the time
  • 9 Hide
    huggles12 , December 6, 2012 5:39 AM
    robertking82881nothing stoping them for doing it any way . and theres gonna be a loophole or one made. or they will hire some one off the record to look in to some one to get a warrant on . the law go's beyond the law all the time


    Even if that is true, at least we know there are people in the Government who respect and are willing to enforce the privacy of others.

    The alternative could be much worse.
  • 14 Hide
    chewy1963 , December 6, 2012 5:50 AM
    I like that this passed, however, I don't like that they " Instead, it has been applied to a proposed amendment to the Video Privacy Protection Act which will head to the Senate for voting next year." That needs to be stopped as well.

    I also don't like that police can serve a warrant to your ISP and make the ISP delay for almost a year before they can notify you. What kind of BS is that? If your information is being looked at under a warrant, you should be able to know that immediately!
  • 8 Hide
    Marcus52 , December 6, 2012 5:53 AM
    I don't think it is "natural" that law enforcement groups would argue against stronger privacy laws; I think the real American law enforcement officer embraces protecting the rights of individuals in our country.

    I think the educated lawman understands "checks and balances" and why we need them. I think he can easily enough see that not all his fellow officers are honest, pure of heart, or completely unbiased, and that Americans might not have a common religion but they do hold some things sacred, and protecting the individual from wrongful judgment is one of those things.

    These laws don't prevent law enforcement from accessing any documents - they prevent them from doing it in a closed system without an overseer. We need overseers, we need judges to approve putting aside a citizen's rights, to do it knowing there is strong reason to believe such an extreme action is justified.
  • 6 Hide
    cats_Paw , December 6, 2012 6:20 AM
    In theory, if law enforcement was fair, i wouldnt mind them knowing everthing about me. The thing is, they are corrupt.
    Because of this, there are laws that defend me from them, therefore defeating the entire purpouse of "LAW ENFORCEMENT".
    But as we all know, those rich and in positions of power tend to have an esier time than regular folk when dealing with authorities, so its probably just a way to limit others while not limiting themselves.

    In this case, i like the idea, however we shall see how long it actually lasts.
  • 1 Hide
    slicedtoad , December 6, 2012 6:59 AM
    It nice to hear good news for once, even a small amount.
  • 2 Hide
    drbaltazar , December 6, 2012 10:16 AM
    NOBODY IS ABOVE THE LAW,YES NOT EVEN THE LAW ITSELF!this system was created and have worked for centuries.it is for the good of us all.need a specific global info that intail wider scope?then military judge should see the case if warrent is needed .the case is too big even the military judge cant decide?then un court justice judge should give the warrent!i dont believe there could be a case where no judge of higher instance isnt avail!
  • 3 Hide
    drbaltazar , December 6, 2012 10:21 AM
    it doesnt stop the law!it just force the justice to make sense,they cant just go on fishing trip ,and if they do they are accountable.they still have 90 days of secrecy,this means:they got a warrant in september ?they ve been fishing for data for the last 3 month!mmmmmme i think this is too long!why?take a truck driver .we need to keep our record for the last 30 days in the truck!so it should be the same for this you get 30 days of secrecy,pending review from a judge if you need more!a lot of stuff !happen in a season!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 6, 2012 12:14 PM
    robertking82881nothing stoping them for doing it any way . and theres gonna be a loophole or one made. or they will hire some one off the record to look in to some one to get a warrant on . the law go's beyond the law all the time

    i will still buy into a VPN and go even further than that for my privacy, there is more than just the government out there to ruin your life over a stupid download, or an out of context message, etc.. RIAA is just one example.

    its safe to assume that you are on your own to raise your own shield of privacy, no one will provide one for you. undermining is a 2 way street, you have your own barricade and those that try to undermine you have their own. assume the worst, prepare for the worst
  • -1 Hide
    kellybean , December 6, 2012 12:22 PM
    Really, more lies. Everyone in US under virtual surveillance' - NSA whistleblower.
    http://rt.com/usa/news/surveillance-spying-e-mail-citizens-178/
  • 2 Hide
    vpoko , December 6, 2012 1:09 PM
    WTF? Does this site know how a bill becomes a law? A Senate panel passing it doesn't make it law. The full Senate still needs to pass it, as well as the House, and then Obama needs to sign it into law. For right now, law enforcement can continue to use subpoenas to get email over 6 months old.
  • 1 Hide
    jabliese , December 6, 2012 1:21 PM
    Everybody sing it with me: "I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill"
  • 1 Hide
    dgingeri , December 6, 2012 3:18 PM
    robertking82881nothing stoping them for doing it any way . and theres gonna be a loophole or one made. or they will hire some one off the record to look in to some one to get a warrant on . the law go's beyond the law all the time

    Looks like you know about as much about law enforcement as you do about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. ("there's", "going to", "made, or", periods go directly after the last word of a sentence without the extra space, and "goes") The fact of the matter is that with this law, a warrant would be required as part of a criminal investigation. Sure, they could still potentially monitor private communication, but if they find anything they can't use it in court. Also, anything that might come from that illegally obtained information would also be inadmissible as "fruit of the poisonous tree." Someone who is guilty could get off on that technicality. Cops hate that more than anything, and so do regular citizens. They'll stick to the law if they want to actually convict someone.

    As with all law enforcement, though, if they want to harass someone, they can do certain things without warrants and still mostly get away with it. I had a cop in LaSalle, Colorado who pulled me over every single weekend when I was coming back to college from working at home on Saturday and Sunday. (I'd head out Friday night, work down in Denver on Saturday and Sunday, while my mom also did my laundry, then head back to school in Greeley Sunday afternoon or evening.) Twice he claimed that he smelled pot and emptied my car supposedly looking for it. The way he watched me, and not my stuff, as he emptied my freshly laundered clothes out on the side of the road, I knew he wasn't looking for anything. He was there to harass me, and all that because he caught me speeding once. I learned my lesson, paid the fine, and quit speeding, but he insisted on continuing to punish me. I've run into stuff like that repeatedly in my 40 years. It was worse when I was in high school. They quit when I hit about 30. I was a good kid, and I followed the rules pretty well, but I was also shy and not very assertive. I was a bully's dream victim. So, every cop I came across pushed me around.

    Cops do that. The look for people they can push around, and they bully them. I haven't known a cop yet that didn't. (That's what I think of when I hear about supposed "racism" by cops. Honestly, they aren't racist. They're worse.) Cops are bullies. That's life. Nothing is going to change that.

    With this case, I seriously doubt any law enforcement is going to bypass this. It's not advantageous in pushing anyone around. Your emails will be safe.

    While enforcing the law is their main goal in doing the job, being a bully is their hobby. If they're trying to actually enforce the law, they'll follow the rules.
  • 1 Hide
    jhansonxi , December 6, 2012 3:34 PM
    If you want privacy then use encryption. Relying on the government to protect you is foolish.