There is a new push in Congress for more privacy rights when it comes to email hosting platforms, highlighting the need for privacy on legislative and technical fronts.
Current regulations are allowing law enforcement agencies to gain access to Internet and social networks with relative ease. This is the case despite the fact the Fourth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure of citizens. It does not extend to e-mail in a remote server, and the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act lets law enforcement get personal information just with a subpoena from a prosecutor - not a warrant, which needs the approval of a judge, a higher standard.
A chorus of privacy advocates, including the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Digital Due Process organization contend the privacy act needs to be updated soon, according to a recent story from the Houston Chronicle.
In response, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has submitted an amendment that will be discussed on Thursday in the Senate. It would require law enforcement to either get a warrant to access personal information or if they get a subpoena, it has to be served to the user.
There are those who oppose Leahy’s proposal – such as the FBI Agents Association and the National Law Enforcement Officers Association, the Chronicle said. They don’t want the delays in an important inquiry. But overall, there are many who represent opposing sides on many diverse issues who come together on the need to update privacy rights.
For example, Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Washington Legislative Office, are co-authors of an article in The Hill, which said, “The Fourth Amendment has eroded online.”
“We agree that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), though forward-thinking in 1986, has become outdated as we head in to 2013,” the article said. “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 (News - Alert) 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.”
“Because ECPA allows the government to access data without a judicial order and notice to the data’s owner, it discourages storing data in the cloud. Clear, consistent digital privacy protection would bolster cloud computing, which is expected to become a $241 billion business by 2020,” the article continued. “We believe e-mail and information stored in the cloud should have the same legal protection as letters or information held by an individual in their home. This is clear, consistent, reasonable privacy protection for the digital age.”
As the debate continues, it highlights the need for adequate technology, such as Hosted Exchange 2013, cloud e-mail and collaboration tools from SherWeb. It not only protects against downtime, but can drive privacy for users.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein