Tell The Government That It Needs To Get A Warrant If It Wants To Read Your Email

from the they're-not-getting-the-message dept

While there's been so much attention lately on the NSA's surveillance tactics and its legality, for years there's been a separate issue that we've been covering: the outdated ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) rules (written in the '80s) that cover law enforcement's ability to get access to your data, such as emails. The laws make almost no sense today, as they were written in a time when the internet was much more limited. The idea of everyone storing pretty much all of their information and communications online wasn't even a concept at the time -- and that creates bizarre and nonsensical rules, like arguing that emails that have been on a server for more than 180 days are considered "abandoned" and no warrant is needed to view them.

There's a simple way to fix all this: reform ECPA to protect private data and say that law enforcement needs to get a warrant to view that information. This is not a difficult requirement, and yet law enforcement has been fighting hard against it for quite some time. Back in September, we noted that if Congress really wants to protect online privacy, beyond just the NSA stuff a good first start would be comprehensive ECPA reform.

To that end, someone recently created a "We The People" petition on the White House website asking for ECPA reform, with a key message: the government should get a warrant.
Americans are deeply concerned about NSA surveillance.

But the NSA’s not the only problem. An outdated law says the IRS and hundreds of other agencies can read our communications without a warrant.

That law, known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), was written over 25 years ago, before the services we use today even existed.

Right now, several bills in Congress would fix this by updating ECPA to require a warrant, but regulatory bodies are blocking reform in order to gain new powers of warrantless access.

We call on the Obama Administration to support ECPA reform and to reject any special rules that would force online service providers to disclose our email without a warrant.
While many are (perhaps reasonably) skeptical about the "We the People" petitions, they have been shown to be effective tools in getting the White House to take a position on important issues. And, while the DOJ is against this kind of ECPA reform, that's not to say that others in the White House couldn't be convinced to go the other way if they really believe there are enough people in support of such a program. So, check out the petition and let the White House know that it should fix the law so that if law enforcement wants your data, it needs to get a warrant.

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  • identicon
    Guardian, 20 Nov 2013 @ 7:53pm

    ohhhhhh canada we stand on guard for THEEEE

    130,000 sign peittion for govt to end illegal spying and it is illegal , a lawsuit is pending too...

    with the new revelations on fraud and bribery charges in the prime ministers office....1 mp with 4 election fraud charges, the PM's buddy a crackhead mayor of toronto and jaffer early on being busted with cocaine and getting off on technicality and another albertan conservative busted for drinking and driving and getting off, for not taking a breath analyzer on time....

    well time for us all to pull a mulroney and put them to NO SEATS NEXT ELECTION...

    620 billion sitting in banks from top 100 corporations here and a national debt of 600 billion...

    OH and a conservative appointed freedom of information person can now also be accused of lying about the existence of documents said not to exist BUT DO.....

    damn right get a damn warrant....

    8 people all close to the prime minister all on this bribery , fraud and breach a trust, and he knows jack shit...ya fucking right..SNIFF SNIFF

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2013 @ 8:18pm

    Where can I edit the text of the law so it conforms with what I want?

    You see I don't want to ask the incompetent people in charge anymore, I want to edit something and have my own version to share with others so they can see what I am talking about and spread it, so a law is born and not just a promise of change.

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

    • identicon
      elbaliavanu, 21 Nov 2013 @ 2:28am


      Edit the law? Easy, ask them again, but this time with a 6 figure campaign budget donation ...

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

    • identicon
      aaa, 22 Nov 2013 @ 10:19am


      the laws are so complicated nowadays that even the president that used to be an attorney don't understand them (for example: he said that Obamacare would allow everyone to keep their current insurance, yet it didn't)

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, 20 Nov 2013 @ 8:21pm

    Also tell corporations need opt-in permission to track us all over the net!

    Google, like other mega-corporations does that because it can -- and we can't easily stop it -- because makes money by SPYING. But the legal fictions that are corporations have no permission explicit or implicit to track persons: gov't itself is only a permitted entity, so how could corporations have more privileges? Besides, gov't currently doesn't need a warrant to get every bit of info Google or other corporatins have. In combination -- which is the de facto fascistic surveillance state -- does little good to tell either gov't or corporations to stop spying, must be BOTH.

    Just because a lot of people have gotten a lot of easy money off teh internets doesn't make it a plus overall: at the very least, the Internet enables spying on scale and in detail as never before.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2013 @ 2:20am

      Re: Also tell corporations need opt-in permission to track us all over the net!

      Google is opt-in retard. If you use it, you've opted in.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2013 @ 8:35pm

    Wikipedia: Electronic Communications Privacy Act

    18 USC 2510 - Definitions

    18 USC 2511 - Interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications prohibited

    18 USC 2522 - Enforcement of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act

    HERE: the 180 days rule started HERE!
    Wikipedia: Stored Communications Act

    Those things didn't happened from one day to another, they happened because we let them happen, one piece at a time, so my proposal is to look at all those pieces and start rewriting them to reflect what the public really wants and need.

    Armed with that, spread the word and let others do the same and debate the issues, this is important to create the majority needed to reverse any bad laws.

    Armed with a concrete law that everyone can agree on, then it is time to vote the bastards out and put some people in who would do the job right.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2013 @ 8:56pm

    Call on Congress to Update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

    Email Privacy Act (HR1852)
    H.R.1852 - Email Privacy Act
    Text: H.R.1852 113th Congress (2013-2014)

    There is one thing I noticed, there is nothing about having to disclose when you are gathered private information even when the case is closed, the government should be obliged to tell everyone that they looked into their lifes if not immediately at the very least upon completion of any investigative where there is no more risks or are there compelling reasons to not make the government have to disclose those things after the fact?

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

  • identicon
    Zem, 20 Nov 2013 @ 9:33pm

    Now that the infrastructure to spy on everything is in place do you actually think any law will stop them from still doing it?

    The only way to stop this is for the internet to move to new technologies that render that infrastructure obsolete, and then get ready to do it all over again once the new spy on everything is built.

    Either that or revolution. But revolution is messy and takes a lot of effort.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2013 @ 9:33pm

    It's a shame you almost have to encrypt something then deliver them the key in person just for a little goddamn privacy.

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

    • identicon
      Mr. Applegate, 21 Nov 2013 @ 4:37am


      It's a shame you MUST encrypt something on a stand alone system; deliver them the key in person; have them decrypt it on a stand alone system, just for a little goddamn privacy.


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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2013 @ 10:58pm

    I have a HUGE problem with this petition. Why protect only the e-mail? For all we know everyone will stop using e-mail in 5-10 years. They should need a warrant for ANY online communication.

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

  • identicon
    Injustice prevails, 21 Nov 2013 @ 2:45am

    WH non-responses

    Petitions to fire the prosecutors who drove Aaron Swartz to suicide reached their response thresholds many months ago but the WH is ignoring them.

    Petition to pardon Edward Snowden passed its response threshold too, but once again the WH is ignoring it.

    Sign all the good WH petitions you see listed, but don't expect justice.

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

  • identicon
    The Prick, 21 Nov 2013 @ 2:47am


    O.K enough is enough. The NSA has been spying on us, we all know. We've known at least since the year 2000, when I was 13. That's when I heard the joke "NSA looking for promising young mathematicians. To apply just call your mother, swear her to secrecy, and tell her you are thinking of applying. Your forms will arrive in the mail within a week."

    We all knew that saying certain words on the phone brought down the ire of the police (Bomb, assassinate, president, for example). We all knew that everything we said was being recorded. I was told this over and over in high school. What changed that suddenly made it outrageous?

    I'll admit, I was sorta angry, in high school, for a few years about it. But I calmed down because everyone else seemed to take it in stride and not care. Why did people suddenly start caring? It's not because Snowden spoke, because as far as I can tell everyone already knew. What changed? Why do people suddenly care?

    I really want to know, this isn't trolling.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2013 @ 4:14am

      Re: Seriously...

      Because before it was just a 'plausible conspiracy', and now we have evidence it's REAL.

      Also, I don't think that many people thought how FAR NSA would go. I don't think your everyday Joe through NSA has set-up a MASS SURVEILLANCE system for ALL US communications, just like you would see in Stasi Germany or China.

      Even most security engineers wouldn't have believed US would be capable of that. Heck, Google looked shocked NSA DARED to spy on their INTERNAL networks, when they already have very vague laws and orders that allow them to ask for just about any information on anyone.

      So it's the SCOPE that matters now. It's orders of magnitude more than anyone believed the US government would be capable of (either technically or through willing policy).

      This is the beginning of the formation of a totalitarian state. They already wipe their asses with the 4th amendment, and believe they have the power to collect and seize any information without a real warrant, and they're starting to aggressively attack the 1st amendment, too, by trying to imprison journalists and punish journalist sources as much as they can, making sure speech is chilling, and no one else will dare do something like that in the future.

      Do you want to live in a society where the government has the power to know about anyone who speaks up against it and then actions against those people, too, and RUIN their lives? If not, then why should we "just calm down about it", when this is just the BEGINNING of US government having ultimate power, not just in its own country, but in the world.

      Read this post, and tell me you still feel like that. If you do, then you're probably just someone on NSA's payroll anyway, and I've wasted my time with you: out

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

    • identicon
      Mr. Applegate, 21 Nov 2013 @ 6:02am

      Re: Seriously...

      Um... Not everyone took it in stride. There are a few of us who have been using encrypted communications for years(as in more than 20); that keep stand alone systems (sometimes in a faraday cage); that will not use cell phones, or keep them in a faraday pouch except when they need them...

      We were called (and some still call us) conspiracy theorists. The uproar now is because the conspiracy theorists were right all along, and the rest of the world got caught with their pants down.

      Even now, as people are outraged and can't believe how the government has invaded their privacy. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg. People get all upset over Google creating a profile of them, capturing them and their houses in "Street View"... The government has capabilities that far exceed anything Google has even thought about doing and far exceed anything that has been revealed to date. Here are just a few examples:

      Post Office takes, and keeps, images of all mail processed: l?_r=0

      Using data from Smart Meteres:

      Windows backdoored by NSA:

      Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages:

      License-p late readers let police collect millions of records on drivers: rs-4883

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

  • identicon
    Tom, 21 Nov 2013 @ 4:49am

    Stuff the Bird

    Want to neutralize the NSA spying on email, then choke them with emails containing key words. Encourage all followers to send an email to a friend that contains key words the NSA will pick up on and explain what you are doing. Ask your friend to send it on to others who are fed up with email spying. I am sure someone on this blog could come up with a suitable email that would get the NSA's attention and overwhelm them a little.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2013 @ 8:06am

    Hey, wait a minute....

    If NSA is saving a copy of my email, can't I have them on copyright infringement? What's the current rate for infringement of a single work, and how many individual cases are we talking about here?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2013 @ 9:01am

    the law is ridiculous considering that not just emails are stored for a good deal longer than 180 days. a hell of a lot of people store a hell of a lot of data in a hell of a lot of different places, in a hell of a lot of different formats. for instance, is a bank account rendered available, just because it hasn't been accessed lately? no different to information!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2013 @ 7:51pm

    I don't sign petitions at because they have a track record of following their own agenda, completely ignoring petition results. The petitions are a farce a just a data collection point of user identifying info for those with opposing political views.

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

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