Law Enforcement Officials Freak Out About Possibility Of Having To Get Warrants To Read Your Email

from the bill-delayed dept

We recently noted that Senator Leahy had attached his mostly good ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) reform bill to another bill reforming the VPPA (Video Privacy Protection Act). The ECPA reform would update a decades-old law that law enforcement has interpreted to more or less mean they don’t need a warrant to read your online email. Leahy’s update would require a warrant. This is a good and important reform that should be supported. But, of course, law enforcement freaked out and it appears that Leahy has backed down, delaying hearings on the bill for now (funny how he really wanted to push through PIPA despite massive public protests, but a few law enforcement people get upset about respecting the 4th Amendment and things get delayed). From Declan McCullagh’s coverage:

The delay comes two days after a phalanx of law enforcement organizations objected to the legislation, asking Leahy to “reconsider acting” on it “until a more comprehensive review of its impact on law enforcement investigations is conducted.” The groups included the National District Attorneys’ Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

[….] A person participating in Capitol Hill meetings on this topic told CNET that Justice Department officials have been expressing their displeasure about requiring search warrants. The department is on record as opposing such a requirement: James Baker, the associate deputy attorney general, has publicly warned that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an “adverse impact” on criminal investigations.

Of course it would have “adverse impact” on criminal investigations. So do lots of things — but those are the rules law enforcement plays by in a free society. It’s not built to make law enforcement’s life easy.

Either way, it appears that this bit of ECPA reform will get pushed off once again. Hopefully, when it comes back, it won’t be watered down.

For what it’s worth, both the EFF and the ACLU — who strongly support ECPA reform similar to what Leahy has been proposing — have also not been that happy with how Leahy introduced this bill, because they both oppose the changes to the VPPA, which they’re afraid will weaken privacy for people. This is a (somewhat rare, but not unprecedented) situation where I disagree with both of those organizations. The VPPA was a specific and broad carve-out to deal with a single situation (bork bork bork). I think it’s reasonable to update it to allow for things like letting people choose to let Netflix and social networks share info on what movies they’ve watched — just like the can choose to show what music they listen to. I don’t necessarily believe that it makes sense to link the VPPA to ECPA reform, but I don’t think that passing the VPPA reform is so problematic that it should stop ECPA reform. Of course, if law enforcement has its way (and so far, that seems to be the case), ECPA reform might never happen. Is it really worth worrying about how you can choose to share your Netflix movies on Facebook while the Justice Department feels it can snoop broadly through your Gmail?

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Comments on “Law Enforcement Officials Freak Out About Possibility Of Having To Get Warrants To Read Your Email”

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Anonymous Coward says:

seems like Leahy is fine when it comes to doing whatever he can/wants that will adversely impact ordinary people who basically cant fight back but as soon as an organisation objects to him doing something that would put back a bit of the privacy that has already been removed from the people, he immediately backs down. shows him up for the gutless fucker he is. like so many of the rest in congress, he is too damn old to be making laws in today’s digital world.

Ninja (profile) says:

It is interesting to see the shills complain when we talk about how SOPA was defeated. They keep whining about misinformation, lies and Google. But think about that for a moment. It was an effort put in place by millions and joined sooner or later by the Internet heavyweights. And yet, in a move that probably has little to no approval from the wider public a few law enforcements agency politely ask for it to be reconsidered and boom, a good reform gets shoot down.

I did expect this. The little cynic me deep inside my head laughed at the effort and told me it was gonna be short lived, specially considering Leahy was a supporter of PIPA.

In the end we could at least tell that some Senators have no clue of what they are supporting or introducing. If Leahy had a clue he wouldn’t support such contradictory bills.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The cynic in me suggests Leahy did this knowing full well he would withdraw it after complaints like these. He wanted to put up something nice so the Internet wouldn’t think he’s a complete waste, but he knew that law enforcement would complain, allowing him a way out from actually passing the legislation. Now he can say, he tried to look out for the public’s interests, when really he’s just yet another corporate stooge.

Perhaps I’m too cynical.

sgt_doom (profile) says:

And now the back story

The item below may appear tenuously connect, but upon a bit of reflection on this abstract piece, you should understand the underlying theme. Thank you.

Why Jesse Ventura is right: unmeming the meme

The constant litany of ?Supreme Court choices? as a motivating factor in reelecting the neocon administration of President Obama doesn?t really hold up when all the data is examined.

Those closely following federal court jurisprudence will understand what we say when it is explained that the majority of truly important cases never make it to the supreme court, while too many trivial cases do end up there.

The Citizens United case should never have made it to the SCOTUS level, where the vile decision was written by the so-called ?liberal? Justice David Kennedy (so described by newsy pundits).

The really important judicial decisions, antithetical to democracy, to the citizenry, to working people and those seeking work, are rendered by the federal courts.

This structure isn?t by chance, but careful design, put in place back in 1978, and incrementally improved over the past thirty-some years.

The US Chamber of Commerce established the National Chamber Litigation Center to this very end, back in 1978.

Thus, when the populist Jesse Ventura urges American voters to reject their usual choice of militant ignorance, and seek the third party solution, he is quite correct.

Today, the government has the ?legal? right to access all personal information about the citizenry without their knowledge, thanks to the Obama Administration and judicial decisions from the federal courts; this is no justification to reelect.

Obviously, the strategy was to find the vilest, most despicable American possible to run against Obama, making him appear pristine by comparison. In this they?ve been most successful with their choice of the vile, despicable Romney (and Ryan).

Whether from indoctrination or mass advertising, too often Americans choose to remain ignorant — and it is a choice!

Recently, like many others, I was approached to make a donation against the validation of Wisconsin?s Gov. Walker in his recall election. Naturally, I declined — not having the money was beside the point — having watched the exit interviews of union members from the Walker?s first election to governor, I was convinced of their militant choice to remain ignorant.

I was sadly proven correct: 40% of union households in Wisconsin voted for Walker in both elections!

Presently, we see the workers at Bain?s Sensata facility, whose jobs are being offshored to China, having finally recognized the impact of jobs offshoring, and blithely explaining how they were taken by surprise?

Amazing, given the overwhelming data to suggest that was the likely outcome!

I have personally witnessed this type of behavior again and again and again; where the workers refuse to acknowledge the obvious — where they chose ignorance above all!

Now the Bain-owned company workers are begging Bain not to offshore their jobs; the psychopaths just love to see them beg.

Of course, those pathetically begging workers don?t realize this as they?ve chosen to remain ignorant all along.

Those of us who?ve been actively fighting jobs offshoring — one of their major tools in the dismantling of the economy — since 1978, the same year of the Powell memorandum, the year the USCoC established their National Chamber Litigation Center, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s creation of the Group of Thirty — view the begging workers with disgust and disdain.

(At this late date, thirty years too little, too late, they would probably be better served going back to watching their sports, cable TV and movies, etc.)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: And now the back story

Thus, when the populist Jesse Ventura urges American voters to reject their usual choice of militant ignorance, and seek the third party solution, he is quite correct.

In theory, perhaps, but in practice it’s pretty hard to find a third party that presents a realistic alternative.

I think that the right way to shift away from the Dems and Reps is to start with small local elections. Going third party for the larger elections truly is just wasting your vote, especially in years (such as this one) when there are clear and important differences between the parties. The lesser of two evils is still less evil.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) already allows choice.

You wrote;
” I think it’s reasonable to update it to allow for things like letting people choose to let Netflix and social networks share info on what movies they’ve watched — just like the can choose to show what music they listen to.”

I think you are operating under a misunderstanding of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). As the law currently stands users can _choose_ to share their video viewing information. That isn’t the _problem_ that Netflix and Facebook (a.k.a Big Business [BB]) wants to _correct_.

The main problem with the VPPA (in the eyes of BB) is that it prohibits “frictionless” sharing. VPPA is _opt_in_ (no just turning it on and hoping you don’t find the ‘off’ switch). It requires _informed_consent_ (no burying in on page 78 written in legalese that a Supreme Court justice would have trouble parsing) and it _can’t_be_changed_unilaterally_ by BB, as just about every _agreement_ these days that states ‘subject to change without notice’ does).

People are legally allowed to share video information from NetFlix to Facebook for specific purposes under the VPPA. It’s just that they are afraid that people wouldn’t agree if they were to actually be given a choice. BB is only interested in getting their hands on that data for uses that have little to do with letting your Facebook friends know what old movies and television shows you’ve been watching. If that’s all it was, they could have done it already.

If anything we should be applying VPPA privacy safeguards more broadly, not trying to scale them back.

Currently your video rentals have more privacy protection than practically any other information about you. More than your emails, more than your cell phone, more even than your medical records.

The ACLU and EFF were correct to be upset by the combination of these too bills. One to strengthen privacy protections tied to one that would weaken them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Small potatoes when compared to new executive order

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano revealed September 19 that an executive order granting the president sweeping power over the Internet is ?close to completion.? This of course is being done in the spirit of cybersecurity. Remember executive orders bypass Congress to say nothing of pesky, annoying warrants. Don’t think this will be abused? Think again.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Small potatoes when compared to new executive order

Remember executive orders bypass Congress

This is a misleading way to say it. Executive orders do not replace or change laws (the province of Congress), but are directives to executive agencies (the province of the Executive).

In other words, executive orders don’t really “bypass” congress at all, as they’re an assertion of executive power as the constitution prescribes.

That said, there have been occasions when executive orders did exceed executive authority. These can be (and have been) successfully challenged on constitutional grounds.

Michael says:

Re: Small potatoes when compared to new executive order

It’s blatantly obvious that the government is gearing up for war with its own citizens. They’re just taking preliminary measures to give themselves an edge.

Consider their recent actions: massive data-gathering incl. hoarding people’s private info without their consent, recording phone conversations, accessing people’s smart phones without their knowledge (including turning on their camera/mic), and tracking people via GPS. Then there’s the security theatre, stop-and-frisk, the TSA goons at airports and now attempting to invade bus stops, train stations and highways all across the country (IOW, Nazi-style checkpoints). They’ve got literally millions of coffin-liners piled in random areas around the country. Likewise, there are the so-called FEMA camps/facilities just sitting there without use. The government is preparing to send drones up in the sky to watch us from above. Y’know, to keep us safe. From something.

A safe country is one where the government doesn’t spy on its own citizens, doesn’t step all over their rights and doesn’t treat everyone like a possible criminal. We were much safer a few decades ago than we are today. Be warned, the biggest threat to our nation isn’t some nonsensical terrorist threat but rather the threat of our own government eliminating all of our rights and treating us like cattle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Warrents are an important system check designed to prevent corruption. for a law enforcement agency to oppose the use of warrents is them saying they want corrupt officers/agents in there ranks. A law enforcment agency should be very worried for its integrity and reputation. It only takes one corrupt officer to destroy many reputations, careers, lives both inside and outside an agency.
That a government agency, especially a law enforcement agency should set itself above the law. or seek to abandon important third party checks on its members, is gambling with its reputation. Is saying that it is more importamt than the society in which it operates.

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