Senate Support For On-Line Privacy Rights

There has been some good news in the Senate regarding on-line privacy rights this week. First, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure to require a warrant for information on line. Current law allows the government to view information held on line for over six months, but it has become far more common to store information on line for extended periods of time since the current law was written. From Wired:

The legislation, (.pdf) sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the committee’s chair, and Michael S. Lee (R-Utah) nullifies a provision of federal law allowing the authorities to acquire a suspect’s e-mail or other stored content from an internet service provider without showing probable cause that a crime was committed if the content is 180 days or older.

Under the current law, the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the government can obtain e-mail without a warrant as long as the data has been stored on a third-party server — the cloud — for 180 days or more. The government only needs to show, often via an administrative subpoena, that it has “reasonable grounds to believe” the information would be useful to an investigation.

Initially, ECPA provided privacy to users, but that privacy protection eroded as technology advanced and people began storing e-mail and documents on servers for longer periods, sometimes indefinitely. The act was adopted at a time when e-mail wasn’t stored on servers for a long time, but instead was held briefly on its way to the recipient’s inbox. E-mail more than 6 months old was assumed abandoned.

“I think Americans are very concerned about unwarranted intrusions into our cyber lives,” Leahy said ahead of the vote.

The bill enjoys backing from a wide range of lobbying interests, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Daily Dot reports that CISPA is probably dead in the Senate, after passing the Republican-controlled House which is less concerned about matters such as civil liberties:

Experts and sources with knowledge of the situation say the most controversial Internet bill of the year, the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), is already dead in the water.

That’s good news for the millions worldwide who have formally registered their opposition to the bill. Designed to help the U.S. fight online attacks, CISPA would make it easier for corporations that are hacked to pass what they know to government agencies—including, critics say, swaths of your private information that would otherwise be protected by law.

But though CISPA resoundingly passed the House of Representatives April 18, “it is extremely unlikely for the Senate” to vote on the bill,” the ACLU’s Michelle Richardson told the Daily Dot.

Finally, I cannot resist giving Andrew Sullivan a link for this post about on-line privacy just because I love the title: If You Give A Browser A Cookie… (For the benefit of readers who have not had small children, it is a play on If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. I also recommend her book If You Give a Moose a Muffin.)