Senator Leahy Brings Back Bill That Would Require Warrants When Gov't Snoops Through Servers For Your Info

from the ecpa-reform dept

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is ridiculously outdated. It was passed in 1986, and to this day provides the (incredibly inconsistent and difficult to apply) rules for what sort of privacy electronic communications have, even though the technology has changed drastically. This has created some wacky consequences, including that (for example) emails have different privacy protections when an email is being written compared to when it's being sent compared to when it's been received compared to when it's been read compared to when it's been archived. As an example, since most messages did not stay on servers for very long (they were downloaded and deleted), the law decided that messages stored on a server for more than 180 days were considered "abandoned" and subject to even lower standards of privacy protections. Think about that the next time you open your Gmail account... ECPA has lots of problems, but the basics are this: it certainly didn't anticipate an era where most of the things we do were in the so-called "cloud," and it takes almost no account of the expectation of privacy.

Last year, Senator Pat Leahy introduced an ECPA reform bill that was mostly good. It basically said that if the government wants to get access to your data on a server, it first needs to obtain a warrant -- something that is sorely missing today. There were some loopholes that concerned us, but for the most part, it was a very big improvement. And it went nowhere. Now, many folks around here will remember Senator Leahy for being the driving force in the Senate behind PIPA -- and you may be quick to want to dismiss his actions here. But just because he's (strongly) supported that bad bill, it doesn't mean that everything he introduces has been similarly problematic.

Leahy is trying again to move forward with his ECPA reform plan, this time attaching it to an update of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). We've discussed the VPPA before. The short version is that it was a special law that bars the release of video rental info, passed in response to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork having his video rental history leaked. But, of course, in this modern age where people automatically stream their music playlists or book purchases to Facebook... Netflix is left out in the cold, because the VPPA doesn't allow them to do the very same thing. So, there's an update to the VPPA making the rounds that basically changes the law to let you tell the world what you streamed from Netflix last night (if you so choose to share that kind of info).

That bill has a chance to actually go somewhere, and it looks like Leahy sees it as another chance to see if he can get his ECPA reform package through the Senate. While it's no secret that I've had my differences with various Leahy proposals in the past, this is a reform that is badly needed to protect our privacy from government intrusion. Requiring a warrant to access your info in the cloud is a common sense move that's long overdue.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 5:48am

    I think it would make sense to have a Constitutional Amendment mandating that laws should be revised every fixed period of time (or earlier if the law specifies). This could prevent this kind of issue that will repeat itself ad nauseam as we move into the future.

    Also, off topic, it's a pity the US Constitution doesn't explicitly forbid secret interpretations from the Govt ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 7:13am

    Re:

    Oh man, that sounds good on the surface, but when you think about it, it's actually pretty bad.

    What happens if a law passed by Party X comes up for revision at a time when Political Party Y is in power. Party Y doesn't have the clout to repeal the law, but now they don't have to. They just have revise it to be meaningless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 7:34am

    Re: Re:

    I'd rather have that than have thirty-year-old laws dictating privacy policies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 7:40am

    and exactly how long does anyone give before someone convinces him to change his mind?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 7:47am

    Re: Re:

    Indeed you do have a point and it could be particularly problematic in the partisan idiocy that's installed in the US. However I do believe the benefits outweighs the possible problems. It takes more involvement of the society in politics.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 8:09am

    This is no-brainer legislation and I can't wait to see how the no-brainers in Washington screw it up.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 10:26am

    Mike don't you mean protect your criminal actions from the law?? isn't that why you hate the law??

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Haywood (profile), Sep 14th, 2012 @ 10:33am

    Laheyisms

    The shit apple doesn't fall far from the shit tree
    You just opened Pandora's Shitbox Ray

    Oh wait, that was Jim Lahey, never mind

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Rekrul, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 11:14am

    We've discussed the VPPA before. The short version is that it was a special law that bars the release of video rental info, passed in response to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork having his video rental history leaked.

    Normal people have their rights violated and the government not only allows it, but encourages it. Someone connected to the government has their rights violated and a law gets passed.

    Yeah, that's fair...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re:

    Call him "Pirate Mike", rookie. And don't forget to come back after he answers your questions and demand to know why he hasn't answered your questions yet. (Can't get good help these days...)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 2:38pm

    The VPPA

    Just ask Michael Camfield or any other resident of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma who rented "The Tin Drum" in 1997 how well the so-called Video Privacy Protection Act works.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    adeenpinto, Sep 14th, 2012 @ 10:45pm

    article

    This is great this will good for people...and a nice article great work buddy... . Cosmetic Bag

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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