The scandal that involved the discovery of the affair between ex-CIA Director David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell shows how important a newly proposed bill to protect email hosting privacy really is. The bill would end the six month privacy window for email messages that allows messages older than 180 days to be searched without a warrant.
Passage of the bill came just a few weeks after the Petraeus’ scandal, a scenario in which a warrantless search of his e-mails not only exposed his philandering but also led to him being accused of disclosing confidential military information to Broadwell.
In addition to Petraeus’ and Broadwells’ incredible less-than-secretive e-mails being sent over an unsecure Gmail account that the FBI uncovered while closely monitoring Broadwell's accounts, there was information leaked to the media about the government continuing to use surveillance tools despite Americans’ privacy rights as well. A recent investigation by the Senate Judiciary committee has disclosed federal law enforcement agencies are in fact monitoring Americans’ electronic communications without search warrants.
According to Chris Calabrese, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative advocate, both Petraeus’ scandal and the government and law enforcement practices brought to light prove the importance of an open and transparent government that could have full warrant protection to review all private electronic content, while taking measures to minimize unwarranted intrusions upon privacy.
Calabrese said he and other ACLU advocates are in favor of the proposed bill to have the Senate committee update the communications and digital privacy laws as they agree that they are outdated due to the fact that they don’t even consider the current era of Internet communications, social networking, cloud computing, email hosting, advancements in technology and the wireless revolution.
He commented that if such a privacy bill currently under consideration by a legislature were enacted to become a law, it would close a loophole in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. This would then overturn the law that authorizes a search and seizure of a person's private e-mails or any other electronic communications for that matter, when it is more than 180 days old without a warrant.
If the bill does in fact become law, it would permit the government, law enforcement officials, Department of Defense or state authorities to be able to obtain a search warrant from a judge in circumstances where reasons are justified like when there is evidence of wrongful acts or there is any suspicion about a person’s conduct to intercept communications.
Regardless of the bill being passed into law, the invasion of privacy will continue to be an ethical concern and so will be the uneasiness of having protection principles in place to protect all forms of communication from unauthorized parties as a result of outside interference, hacker attacks, and so on.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein