If You're An American Who Believes In The 4th Amendment, You Have No Excuse Not To Sign This Petition

from the don't-let-it-continue dept

We’ve written a few times recently about the importance of ECPA reform, to bring a woefully out of date law into the 21st century. Specifically, we’ve urged people to sign this White House petition in favor of ECPA reform. That petition closes soon, and it’s still a bit short of the 100,00 goal.

Why is this important to you? Because, without it, it’s much easier for the government to snoop on your emails without a warrant. What people want is for emails and regular mail to be treated the same, which is simply not the case today.

While this is a separate issue from the NSA stuff, it does matter quite a bit, and this is a chance for there to be a real win that helps protect your privacy. Fighting against this proposal are a variety of government agencies, led by the IRS and the SEC, which have made good use of this loophole to read emails without getting a warrant. This is not what the law was intended for at all. It’s a loophole based on the outdated law, which was written in 1986, before anyone could comprehend things like web-based email. The IRS and SEC like having this loophole, and they don’t want it to go away. In fact, they want it to be made explicit, rather than an accidental loophole of history. That should be a massive affront to folks who believe in the 4th Amendment and the basic concept that a search should require a warrant based upon probable cause.

I know that many people have dismissed the whole concept of White House petitions, and take a rather cynical view of the whole thing. That’s a very dangerous approach here, only helping to further the problems:

  1. Yes, it’s true that the White House has ignored certain petitions in the past. It’s also true that there are certain issues where the White House doesn’t really seem to care what people have to say, it’s made up its mind.
  2. But, that is not always the case, and the White House has used these petitions to take strong positions in the past — including on things like SOPA and mobile phone unlocking. When accompanied by a strong campaign beyond just the petition, the White House seems open to taking certain issues more seriously. This is one of those.
  3. By all indications, there are some in the White House who agree that ECPA is out of date and needs to be fixed. There appears to be an internal debate about where the official White House position will be — whether it’s siding with the IRS and SEC — or with the 4th Amendment rights of the public. Having a ton of signatures from the American public on their side will absolutely help those in the White House who support real and meaningful ECPA reform push back against the agencies.
  4. This isn’t an empty gesture. There are bills in the House and Senate to fix ECPA, close the loopholes and protect your 4th Amendment rights. Getting White House support could finally push those bills over the edge and make them law.
  5. Sticking with the cynical approach and refusing to sign guarantees failure. Not signing works to the advantage of the IRS and SEC and others who like using this loophole. Even if you’re cynical about this, signing the petition at least gives it a chance to influence the debate.

And, yes, I know that outside of the general debate over ECPA, people will look at the NSA situation and argue that it doesn’t really matter what the law says. That’s not true. Yes, the NSA issue is a big one that needs to be dealt with, but this is about a loophole that goes way beyond the NSA, and is used and abused by different government and law enforcement agencies. Here’s a real chance to push back on that and to score a real victory for privacy. Letting cynicism and apathy dictate your move here guarantees that the forces pushing against your 4th Amendment rights win. So take a chance and sign the petition.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “If You're An American Who Believes In The 4th Amendment, You Have No Excuse Not To Sign This Petition”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
61 Comments
Violynne (profile) says:

Won’t waste my time with this. Even if something should happen with all the signatures, I’m not stupid as to believe our government is going to cease with the action.

The NSA is already breaking the law. Asking for Congress to create a new law to prevent the NSA from breaking existing laws is a waste of time.

Good luck with the petition. You’re definitely going to need it.

Violynne (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’ll address this, since it seems to be a common reply to several readers here.

It may seem like I don’t care, but the truth of the matter is I do care. However, there’s more going on here than some simple petition is going to correct.

Let me ask you something: did you care at all your data had the potential to be spied upon before Snowden’s documents were released?

You see, I did. I’ve been telling people for years that if you valued your privacy, you shouldn’t be using public communication systems which lead outside your home or place of business.

What I got was apathy from everyone else. The bullshit remarks “You’re full of it. How do you know? Got proof? Our privacy is our expectation so I don’t believe you!”

Snowden isn’t the only person on this planet who knows just how intrusive American spying has become. I’ve known it for years, though I certainly didn’t have access to documents I could have taken to prove myself.

Instead, I saw it with my own two eyes.

Do you realize how pissed off I am by people giving me this flack while I’m taking extra precautions to secure my own systems and communications?

I’ve been called everything from “nutjob” to “paranoid freak”, and well, look who’s been right this whole time.

I get people are upset over this. I really do, but people need to understand this will not change anything.

Again, this is a government which already pissed on the Constitution and it’s been doing it for decades. Now that Snowden’s documents have provided this “proof”, now you’re all scrambling as though someone pulled your pants down.

Where the hell were you all 10 years ago?

I’m going to put it like this: While I certainly don’t know all the information Snowden took from the NSA, I’m going to bet there’s quite a bit in those documents which the public will never see, because the information could very well be catastrophic to the United States.

While I certainly don’t believe we’ll see WWIII over the info, I absolutely do see the rest of the world standing together to unite against a common enemy, and that enemy is our own country.

Sure, call me any name in the book you want, but unless you plan on giving up all your electronic devices and detach from the online world, any expectation of privacy you want is a dream.

So yes, I’m plenty pissed off, but I’m also not foolish to believe this issue is going away anytime soon.

Instead, those who got owned by Snowden will simply ensure this crap doesn’t happen again while they continue to monitor everything that has a microchip inside it.

I sure there’s an app for that.

PS: “Government” can be any party covered under “law” enforcement. I specifically chose the NSA in my discussion because this petition is the result of the actions by this entity.

Without Snowden’s documents, no one wouldn’t give a damn about the EPCA. If they had, the law would have been written right the first time it was introduced.

Right?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It may seem like I don’t care, but the truth of the matter is I do care. However, there’s more going on here than some simple petition is going to correct.

How many times do I need to say that this is one part of a bigger process, but an important one to show that there’s real public interest in this issue. Every time someone says “some simple petition” as if that’s all that’s going on here, you help the surveillance state win.

Let me ask you something: did you care at all your data had the potential to be spied upon before Snowden’s documents were released?

I did. I’ve been writing about and working on this issue for years. That’s why I know how important this is.

I get people are upset over this. I really do, but people need to understand this will not change anything.

That’s wrong. And defeatist. It helps what you claim to hate.

Again, this is a government which already pissed on the Constitution and it’s been doing it for decades. Now that Snowden’s documents have provided this “proof”, now you’re all scrambling as though someone pulled your pants down.

I don’t know how many times we need to point this out: this isn’t even about Snowden. And we’ve advocated for ECPA reform since long before Snowden.

Either way, it’s quite the lame hipster move to argue “I was for privacy before you were, therefore I won’t support your very real chance at fixing stuff.”

Without Snowden’s documents, no one wouldn’t give a damn about the EPCA. If they had, the law would have been written right the first time it was introduced.

Right?

No. It was written in 1986. The problems with ECPA are not with intent, but rather with the tech at the time and how much it’s changed — meaning that the loopholes developed because of tech changes. That’s what we’re trying to fix here. Yet you’re so cool because you’ve been fighting this for years that you’re going to shit on people who have a chance to fix it now?

How does that possibly make sense?

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

@ Violynne,

I get what you’re saying, but taking the few minutes to sign the petition gives us the opportunity to prove that

a) people genuinely care about this issue
b) if the WH ignores it, that it has been ignored despite the number of signatures

People don’t like being ignored. Kudos to you for being ahead of the game, but we need you to help us with this. WH uses petitions to take the political temperature, which is why we need to sign it. I’m aware that it won’t make them act on it but this is not all we mean to do. It’s part of an overall campaign to fight this crap like we did with SOPA.

None of us are under any illusions that even the most determined campaign will make all bad laws go away forever. Indeed, it’s like whack-a-mole out there with all the bad laws being made. However, it’s a game that the most determined can win if they stay the course.

Step 1: campaign against bad laws
Step 2: promote viable alternative candidates
Step 3: encourage people to be more politically aware and involved
Step 4: discourage political tribalism. It’s not about the team, it’s about what’s good for the country
Step 5: do what you can to raise awareness of the candidate of your choice till he or she becomes popular enough to have a realistic chance of winning.

At this point, we have a reasonable chance of winning.

If we keep voting the same people into office, don’t be surprised that we keep getting the same results. Don’t vote for the same ones in fear that the other side might win, work to make your candidate popular enough to win by sharing about them on your social media accounts and talking about them to your friends.

Unless you have a better idea.

The only revolution we need is in our hearts and minds.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even if something should happen with all the signatures, I’m not stupid as to believe our government is going to cease with the action.

Mostly I’m with you on the cynicism. I think you’re completely right in that nothing productive or good will happen no matter how many signatures it gets.

On the other hand I assume it doesn’t take long to fill in and look at it the other way. It may be that nothing good happens with a gazillion signatures, but at probably nothing worse happens either. If enough people feel as you do and the petition flops, can you see the government not using it as justification to say “See? No-one really cares about this stuff, we can crank the ratchet of invasion up another notch.”?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Won’t waste my time with this. Even if something should happen with all the signatures, I’m not stupid as to believe our government is going to cease with the action.

You’re wrong, and you’re contributing to the problem. It’s apathy from people like you that make the government think they can get away with this. Please reconsider.

The NSA is already breaking the law. Asking for Congress to create a new law to prevent the NSA from breaking existing laws is a waste of time.

Did you even read the post? This isn’t even about the NSA. This is about other law enforcement. And no one’s asking Congress to ‘create a new law.’ The bills are already there and have good support. We’re just trying to help them get over the top — and it’s close. Though it may fail from people like you rushing to judgment based on faulty assumptions.

Good luck with the petition. You’re definitely going to need it.

It’s not luck we need — it’s people to actually understand stuff and stop making bogus assumptions. Please reconsider. Your assumptions are wrong.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You’re wrong, and you’re contributing to the problem. It’s apathy from people like you that make the government think they can get away with this. Please reconsider.

Signing a petition is not going to change the world. It’s a great start, but it’s really time to begin to work on other options. Things that actually mean a change in things to come. A petition won’t do that.

How can people form up into groups and fight these changes in their communities?

How can people form up?

Yes, we defeated SOPA but as of now, SOPA was implanted in the TPP, we lost Aaron Schwartz to an overzealous governmental system, and the battles that we do have come down to political bickering.

We need new strategies and groups because the old ways aren’t working.

We need new ways to form up and have business interests that coincide with the public. We need to find out how to force the government to back away from this position and to actually do a lot more than reform.

These are egregious acts that have been caused. The government has criminalized whistleblowing, forced their hands to spy on everyone, and the 4th Amendment has been savaged by our Constitutional monarchy who decides the law over the Congress that we can’t even elect through gerrymandering.

If people were willing to form up and fight these issues as important through a number of means, such as forming their own businesses and groups to go to Washington, we may have more leeway. And that’s what it’s going to take.

The petition is a great start, but there needs to be far more action for such an important Amendment.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Signing a petition is not going to change the world. It’s a great start, but it’s really time to begin to work on other options. Things that actually mean a change in things to come. A petition won’t do that.

Listen: do you honestly think that this is ALL that everyone is doing on this? This is part of a MUCH larger effort involving a ton of people working so many different angles on this particular issue. It’s not just signing the petition, but the petition is a necessary part of the larger effort.

The “other efforts” are very much in progress, but PART of making those efforts work is proving that people actually care about this shit, and instead we have to sit here wasting time convincing everyone that signing a petition isn’t a waste of time.

There’s a ton of things going on here, and the petition is an important piece of the larger puzzle.

The petition is a great start, but there needs to be far more action for such an important Amendment.

You significantly underestimate everything that’s going on — and in doing so help undermine what’s going on by poo-pooing an important piece of the puzzle.

Isma'il says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you’re that naive to think that a simple petition is going to stop the erosion of our rights, then go right ahead and sign.

However, those who are truly aware of the state of affairs in the world know that the government is just a tool of the corporatocracy. “We The People,” is long dead, and the world is being run by multinational corporations numbering too long to list here. What “We The People,” have to say is IRRELEVANT. Need proof? Look no further than John Perkins’ book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman.” The evidence is out there for all to see, if one would just care to look for it. From the ouster of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 to the recent “crisis” in Syria, and everything in between, the corporatocracy was behind them all, with our government as willing accomplices. Not to mention the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing, eroding the purchasing power of our fiat currency.

What we need is a NEW government, not a “petition.”

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

yes, don’t waste your time with this petition.

When your rights are completely eroded away and you go “why didn’t anyone say anything?!” we can point back and say “well, no one wanted to waste their time signing anything or calling their representatives or anything”.

So, in short…

Don’t complain when you lose your rights, for you do not complain while you still have them.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You don’t have to rely on the NSA not breaking the law. This law could give an entirely new cause of action to groups like the ACLU and EFF to have the courts stop the NSA.

And, the law goes well beyond just the NSA, but I guess you k now that already. If fifteen seconds is too much for you to spend on this, then nothing is going to convince you. You probably aren’t the kind of people the petitioners are trying to reach.

I’m guessing there’s not much you’d spend your time on that didn’t directly involve the welfare of your own pink (almost certainly) butt.

Steave Harvey says:

Re: Response to: Violynne on Dec 11th, 2013 @ 11:05am

I’m not sure that people understand that the government was founded on the notion they work for us if they choose to ignore this the people can take the “governmet apart and put it back together they way we wan’t. I mean the world kept spinning when they shut down for almost 3 weeks, we have the numbers on our side, just think thier military is made up of brothers, fathers, sisters, and mothers of you or someone you know.

Erbo (user link) says:

Catch-22

Of course, in order to sign the petition, you have to register on the petitions.whitehouse.gov Web site.

Given such things as the IRS scandal, I’m not sure I trust what would happen to my personal information if I did sign up, or what government list I’d wind up getting put on.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22.”
“It’s one of the best.”

Erbo (user link) says:

Re: Re: Catch-22

Oh come now, they already have all your personal information as well as a recording of all your phone calls and a history of everywhere your phone has ever connected to a cell tower.

If that’s the case, why draw attention to yourself by signing a petition that potentially labels you as a “troublemaker”?

out_of_the_blue says:

Are "emails and regular mail to be treated the same" by Google too?

And any other corporations providing me “free services” so can snoop on me? — If not, then this is useless. The real loophole is the 3rd Party Doctrine where corporations are free to be paid to hand over all information you’ve “voluntarily” given to the soulless money fiends. — WHO agreed to be surveilled continually all over the web? Which of you agreed to that, or believe can totally opt out of just Google’s surveillance?

And are you on board with this by the 500 writers, Mike?

WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people, as democratic citizens, to determine to what extent their personal data may be collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored. WE CALL ON ALL STATES AND CORPORATIONS to respect these rights.

A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space.

http://www.activistpost.com/2013/12/will-you-write-wrongs.html

AricTheRed says:

Surprised that no one has pointed out the real reason for the WH petition site here yet/lately

I am a firm believer in the 4th amendment and that it SHOULD PROTECT what folks think it protects, however have any of you here noted the PRIMARY reason that the Obama administration pays attention to their WH petition site is so that they can sign you up for direct email marketing and SELL you on THEIR position regarding issues that YOU care about, not necessarily to solicit your opinion on the issues you care about.
I suspect that there are more accurate ways to poll the audience to determine how much We The People care or feel about an issue than using the rather cleverly disguised phishing site petitions.whitehouse.gov.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Surprised that no one has pointed out the real reason for the WH petition site here yet/lately

Use mailinator.com. You don’t have to sign up for it or anything — just give them an anythingyouwant@mailinator.com email address. You can even go to the mailinator.com website and see what mail was sent to the address, in case you need to get a confirmation from them.

bruce1337 says:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”

Do your patriotic duty, sign a petition! *Beg* the government that has become destructive of these ends to change their ways, pretty please, or else, you’re going to sign yet another petition! That’s the American revolutionary spirit everybody loves!

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

Sarcasm aside, I agree. The government is already violating people’s 4-A rights. They flaunt their criminal behavior in our face and expect us to plead with them just to fix one loophole? Who do they think they’re fooling? Even if they did patch it up, they’d eventually get around to sneaking into another bill while nobody’s looking. Anyone with common sense can easily see through this farce.

It’s time to stop asking and start demanding.

Anonymous Coward says:

WOW I am still winning, Masnick too scared to allow me to comment. My arguments too strong for you sir?

I guess one day you will grow a set.

One day you will be brave enough to allow all people to post and wont have to resort to metadata censorship!!

Possibly, until then you look quite pathetic in trying to use CENSORSHIP to hide behind.

Be a man Masnick, grow some balls.. Or spend your life as a wimp!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

While I agree three needs to be quite a bit of updating of our laws with regards to computers – the EPCA being one of them, signing a whitehouse petition isn’t going to do shit. You will have a much better chance contacting your local representative and bugging the powers at be rather than putting a digital signature on the petition as the whitehouse has already proven that they don’t take these seriously. They are about as valuable as a comment box at a restaurant.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

While I agree three needs to be quite a bit of updating of our laws with regards to computers – the EPCA being one of them, signing a whitehouse petition isn’t going to do shit. You will have a much better chance contacting your local representative and bugging the powers at be rather than putting a digital signature on the petition as the whitehouse has already proven that they don’t take these seriously. They are about as valuable as a comment box at a restaurant.

Did you not bother reading? This petition is part of a larger process. There’s no reason not to sign it other than to help the other side.

Plenty of WH petitions have been very useful in driving administration policy decisions and statements, including on things like SOPA. Yes, they ignore some of them, but on key ones they’ve been very useful.

And this is a case where we have significant indications that this will be used smartly as well.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...