A victory for the smartphone-toting arrestee, and commonsense.
The Net neutrality debate rages on, Comcast announced plans to buy Time Warner Cable, and Congress gets closer to finally protecting Americans’ privacy from warrantless snooping.
The FTC is stepping up enforcement against tech companies whose designs don't meet the Commission's standards of fairness. Find out what this means for you, the consumer, and follow our events on #FTCReform.
The FCC received over a million comments on the NPRM regarding Net Neutrality. See our legal and policy comments to the FCC and follow our work to promote a free and open Internet.
Police and other law enforcement can conduct warrantless searches of Americans’ emails, cloud storage, and other digital effects, because our law is outdated. Lawmakers wrote the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) in a pre-Internet era where today’s concerns did not apply. While ECPA’s provisions attempt to protect stored electronic communications, authorities exploit the arbitrary cracks and loopholes in the law, which renders our data unprotected.
An extraordinarily diverse coalition has been pushing for ECPA reform for almost four and and a half years. Now, finally, we’ve reached a tipping point: over half the House of Representatives now supports The Email Privacy Act. This bill would require law enforcement to get warrants from a judge before accessing private data stored online. It’s time for Congress to swiftly pass this common-sense reform. The bill enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and is backed by 84% of the American public.
Privacy concerns are at the forefront of voters’ minds, and this bill allows congressmen to show they take their constituents’ privacy seriously.
The NSA collects emails and browsing and chat histories of Americans and searches the information without a warrant under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. This bulk collection is also known as the “PRISM” program, which was exposed by Edward Snowden’s leaks last year. Yesterday, the House of Representatives took an important step toward ending this practice known as “backdoor searches.” Lawmakers passed an amendment to the Defense Department appropriations bill that would prohibit the NSA from using any of its funding from this bill for blanket searches of Americans’ data without judicial oversight. Moreover, the amendment bars the NSA from mandating that private companies create backdoor vulnerabilities in their encryption standards, which are specifically designed to protect consumers.
This amendment is undoubtedly an important step toward reining in the NSA. It’s also a way for Congress to show that it’s finally taking warrantless surveillance seriously.
Last December, over 100,000 Americans joined together to demand an end to warrantless searches of emails and other online data. 138 days later, we still haven’t gotten a response. To illustrate how important this issue is, we joined with dozens of other nonprofits to send this open letter to President Obama, asking for him to support efforts to reform ECPA:
Dear Mr. President,
We write today to urge you to support reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to guarantee that every American has full constitutional and statutory protections for the emails, photos, text messages, and other documents that they send and share online.
Among many other protections, ECPA regulates how the government can access the contents of electronic communications. Unfortunately, the law governing electronic communications has not been substantially updated since 1986. Under the statute, e-mail, documents stored in the cloud, and other private communications like photos and text messages do not receive the protection of the requirement of a search warrant approved by a judge. A warrant based on the probable cause standard is required for searches of U.S. mail, searches of a home, or even electronic communications that are not stored with companies like Google or Yahoo.
There is bipartisan legislation in the Senate and the House, S. 607 and H.R. 1852, which would make a simple fix to the law, by assuring that, regardless of where individuals store their communications, those communications searches will meet the constitutional probable cause standard and be safe from unjust government intrusion.
Yesterday, TechFreedom submitted comments urging the White House to apply economic thinking to its inquiry into “Big Data,” also pointing out that the worst abuses of data come not from the private sector, but government. The comments were in response to a request by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“On the benefits of Big Data, we urge OSTP to keep in mind two cautions. First, Big Data is merely another trend in an ongoing process of disruptive innovation that has characterized the Digital Revolution. Second, cost-benefit analyses generally, and especially in advance of evolving technologies, tend to operate in aggregates which can be useful for providing directional indications of future trade-offs, but should not be mistaken for anything more than that,” writes TF President Berin Szoka.
The White House has expressed support for reining in the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, but with multiple bills in Congress it’s uncertain which specific reforms will be included in the debate moving forward. To ensure whichever NSA reform bill advances is as strong as possible, TechFreedom and 41 other nonprofits and businesses have sent a joint letter to key policymakers outlining what any bill aiming to reform bulk surveillance should include.
Read the text below, and see the full letter for the list of signatories and recipients:
We the undersigned are writing to express support for ending the government’s bulk collection of data about individuals. We strongly urge swift markup and passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R.3361), which would enact appropriate surveillance reforms without sacrificing national
security. This letter focuses on bulk collection, but overbroad NSA surveillance raises many more privacy and security issues that Congress and the Administration should address.
It’s been a busy year for tech policy: the Net neutrality debate rages on, Comcast announced plans to buy Time Warner Cable, and, while Congress dawdles on reining in the NSA, it’s getting closer to finally protecting Americans’ privacy from warrantless snooping by law enforcement. But first, check out these two back-to-back events coming up tomorrow (Tuesday, 3/11):
#IPTransition: The Next Steps in Promoting the Values of the IP Transition
Telephone companies want to upgrade to Internet Protocol (IP), saving billions that can be invested in faster broadband service. Now that the FCC has approved AT&T proposal for trials, the discussion has shifted to what’s next. AT&T has agreed, in principle, with Public Knowledge’s proposal for five values that should guide the IP transition, but what do they really mean? And how should they be implemented? Join PK tomorrow (3/11) on the Hill at 10:30am a.m. for a briefing including TF’s Berin Szoka. RSVP today (no livestream) and follow the conversation on Twitter.
#FTCProcess: Should the FTC Be Both Prosecutor and Judge?
At 9:30 a.m., the Washington Legal Foundation will host a panel on how the FTC uses its administrative litigation process as an alternative to suing in court. It’s bad enough that the FTC always wins. This cumbersome process also discourages companies from litigating at all, thus allowing the FTC to build what it calls a “common law” of unadjudicated settlements. Either way, the agency’s ability to operate outside the courts means there’s little check on the FTC’s discretion in regulating privacy, data security, novel competition theories, patents, and more. RSVP today to attend or watch the livestream. (If you’re really feeling dedicated, you can watch this event on the House Wi-Fi network, then go right to the PK event at 10:30).
The mass surveillance of American citizens by the NSA has been the leading technology policy story for months, and rightly so. But there are other important reforms in the works, like updating the Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to stop warrantless searches of Americans’ emails and data stored in the cloud. TF’s Berin Szoka talked about the issue with The Hill:
The focus on the activities of the NSA shifted Congress’s focus from law enforcement access to national security, shunting the email issue aside.
Email privacy reform “doesn’t have that direct connection to the NSA issue the way a bill like the USA Freedom Act does,” Stanley said, referring to legislation from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that would scale back the government’s sweeping surveillance programs.
While the debate over NSA surveillance has largely increased awareness about digital privacy concerns, it has also taken attention away from the specifics of email privacy reform.
The intricacies of requiring warrants for stored emails are “not as widely understood as the threats from the NSA,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom.
“Everyone has been so focused on the NSA,” he said. “That’s the story.”
Tell Congress: end warrantless email searches! Use the tools at VanishingRights.com to ask your representative to co-sponsor the Email Privacy Act (HR 1852).
You know the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) needs to be reformed. Written in 1986, back when we were concerned about landline voice calls instead of cloud storage and cell phone location data, it contains loopholes that law enforcement has exploited to conduct warrantless searches of Americans’ emails and other digital papers and effects.
There’s a massive movement to fix this and ensure our Fourth Amendment rights are respected in the digital world. Last December, over 100,000 people signed our coalition’s We the People petition for ECPA reform, requiring a White House response. We’re still waiting for them to reply, but Congress heard us loud and clear, and the Email Privacy Act (HR 1852) — which would make law enforcement get warrants for searches of data in the cloud — has a whopping 180 co-sponsors!
But that’s not enough. We need 218 votes to pass the House, so we’re shooting for 218 sponsors to guarantee its passage. If you want to stop warrantless searches of your emails, go to VanishingRights.com to see if your representative is a sponsor — if they’re not, ask them to be, and if they are, thank them! We can win this fight, but only if we show that the public is behind reform. Act now!
See our handy infographic to learn more about what’s wrong with ECPA, and how we can fix it.
TechFreedom is starting 2014 strong. We’ve had our hands full with some of the biggest technology policy news in years: In the same week, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out most of the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations, and President Obama took a few (cautious) steps towards reforming mass surveillance. We’ve also had some big victories on other issues, and have a lot of exciting stuff coming up soon!
Whatever Doesn’t Kill the FCC Makes it Stronger
Last week, the D.C. Circuit Court struck down the major provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, commonly referred to as Net Neutrality. Initially, most pundits viewed it as a major blow to the open Internet, declaring “Net Neutrality is dead” and that we will now see “the end of the Internet as we know it.” We’ve always been skeptical of such claims, but this time, we were the first to explain what the decision really meant: the ruling actually increased the powers of the FCC and state governments over the Internet. That concern is now gaining serious traction.
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