Privacy bill reportedly rewritten to allow warrantless surveillance

By on November 20, 2012, 4:00 PM

An update to the 26-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) is due for a vote next week. But it seems that rather bringing it up to modern standards while guaranteeing protections for people’s digital communications, the rewrite actually expands the U.S. government’s surveillance powers dramatically.

The act in its current form is an update to the Federal Wiretap Act of 1968 and was written in a time before everyone had email, let alone use social networks or store files on the cloud. Despite a couple of amendments the act treats all kinds of messages differently and has a number of provisions that don’t necessarily apply to today’s world and leaves digital communications subject to very little privacy protections.

Back in September, Senator Patrick Leahy proposed a rewrite that would require federal, state, and local police to obtain a search warrant before accessing someone’s digital communications in any form. The Justice Department was quick to oppose saying that requiring a warrant to obtain stored e-mail could have an "adverse impact" on criminal investigations. Law enforcement groups reportedly asked Leahy to "reconsider acting" on and apparently he buckled under pressure.

Cnet says the revised bill would allow more than 22 agencies -- including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission -- to access Americans' e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. All they need is to issue a subpoena or claim that an emergency situation exists.

The revised bill says providers "shall notify" law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell their customers that they’re being spied on, but even then they are required to wait 10 business days. Moreover, this notification can be postponed by up to 360 days.

The revised bill is scheduled for a vote next week but there's still some debate over how serious this proposal really is and if the draft obtained by Cnet represents the finalized version. Leahy was quick to deny the report on Twitter and said the whole point of the reform is to require search warrants. Meanwhile, Cnet’s Declan McCullagh is standing by his original story, suggesting Senator Leahy is just responding to public criticism.




User Comments: 24

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Win7Dev said:

I will be registering my own domain and using it for my own email if the government thinks they can spy on me without a warrant, due cause, or consent.

1 person liked this | soldier1969 soldier1969 said:

Good luck with that, some of us are alot smarter than any Government tech noob to monitor my stuff.

Guest said:

Again? those politicians wont stop until they approve something like that...God Bless Americans? God Pls take those kind of ppl out of this facked planet

Tygerstrike said:

Once again guys once any information leaves your computer it is not secure. So anyone with the appropriate tech can generally snatch that information. Also remember anything that has .com in its name is "owned" by the US govt. SO they have many ways to spy on your information without a warrent.

1 person liked this | Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

This, my friends, is what happens when you have too much faith in your government. When congressmen, and senators are allowed to serve 30, 40, or 50 years, you get a bunch of big brother BS like this. Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter, neither represent the Constitution anymore.

lawfer, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I was under the impression search warrants easier to get than actual subpoenas. Is that correct? Because if so, I don't see how this is any different than what's currently in place.

Guest said:

Oh NO!!!!!!!!! they will catch you in drug deals now? or child prostitution? or tax evasion? sucks to be you. Those that have nothing to hide hide nothing. You can judge someone on how transparent they are.

1 person liked this | Scshadow said:

Oh NO!!!!!!!!! they will catch you in drug deals now? or child prostitution? or tax evasion? sucks to be you. Those that have nothing to hide hide nothing. You can judge someone on how transparent they are.

I do have something to hide. Personal information, Personal conversation. Personal finances. Even if a detective keeps it confidential, I don't necessarily want him to have a chance to judge me in his own private time. Wow, how dense can you get.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

There are ways no one can read your mails, but I think in last 10 years legal systems all over the world has been turned up side down, and most of the states are becoming 'police' states (with the help of judiciary as they usually choose to side with the agencies), so such developments are not surprising. With or without legal cover, Govts/Agencies (if the way want to monitor someone's activities) will find a way to do so. Tragic but these are the facts.

@Wendig0

So true, any system is as good as the people who are running it.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Oh NO!!!!!!!!! they will catch you in drug deals now? or child prostitution? or tax evasion? sucks to be you. Those that have nothing to hide hide nothing. You can judge someone on how transparent they are.

That's absolute BS. I don't plan on running for public office anytime soon, so I'll be as opaque as I want to be. My emails are just that.... MINE. Not dirty Uncle "Bad Touch" Sam's.

Guest said:

What a big fat crock of shit. I guess it's about time I switched back to using snail mail

ElShotte ElShotte said:

The article photo made me laugh by the way...

psycros psycros said:

Obama ain't wasting any time implementing that "fundamental transformation", is he?

1 person liked this | Tygerstrike said:

No the guest above is correct, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

@Scshadow

Personally why would you care what some detective thinks? So he reads your emails and finds out you like comic books. Or something similar. Who cares what that one individual thinks about you. You really think that detective is going to care? Unless your talking about commiting a great comic book heist, Im pretty sure the detective is going to read your email like he would read the morning paper.

This is one of those easy no brainers. Dont put anything out in email that you dont want someone other then the intended recipient to read. So they spy on your email, big deal. Let them read about how your aunt Sallys yorkie ate the car keys. Let them read how some family member is getting a new job. The reality is that unless you are talking face to face with someone, your communication can be monitored. So dont give them anything to read or use against you. Simple.

P.S.

If your stupid enough to put incriminating information out on the web, your stupid enough to deal with what comes from it.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

If your stupid enough to put incriminating information out on the web, your stupid enough to deal with what comes from it.
If you are stupid enough to have incriminating information against yourself, you need to be dealt with anyway.

Darkshadoe Darkshadoe said:

"If your stupid enough to put incriminating information out on the web, your stupid enough to deal with what comes from it."

I say you put your money where your mouth is. Please post your IP address here so everyone can go through your computer.

Because you have nothing to hide...right?

Because you aren't a criminal...right?

So you have nothing to fear... right?

Scshadow said:

Ignorance

In the VERY LEAST nobody has a right to pry into my private life. In the most, giving free access to my private information means a crooked law enforcement official will steal my identity. There is no world in which it is OKAY to have access to my stuff without just cause. There is an infinite number of reasons of why they gave us the 4th amendment. It is IMPOSSIBLE for me to FATHOM why you think its okay for people to be allowed to spy on you. Nothing good can come of it, you just push the crooks underground and legit users get screwed.

Tygerstrike said:

@Sc

Im not saying its ok for the govt to either interfer with your personal life, nor am I saying that its ok that they read your emails. What I am saying is that knowing they have the ability to read your emails just means you have to be smart in what you put in them. Take a cue from the mob if you will. They know Law enforcment is watching them. In knowing that they are being watched, they dont do anything out in public. They keep their criminal acts on the downlow. The same theory applies here. You know they can have access to your email, so you dont give them anything to use against you. You know they are watching so you give them nothing to watch. Its called beating them at their own game. You can stand there and rant about the govt right to do anything, but since you cannot change it, you have to deal with it.

Tygerstrike said:

@dark

Im so glad your able to turn any post into some form of attack. Youre parents must be so proud of you. You completly missed the message of the post and immediatly attempt to debase someone you dont agree with. Good for you.

2 people like this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Beings as I am a crotchety old man, friendless and impoverished, all I get is spam anyway. Some of which is advertising, another perhaps larger portion, are Email notifications from threads at TS.

The stone cold facts are, I disagree with most of you, and I don't care what you think. So that means, if the government wants to subpoena that garbage, they're welcome to it....... ! I just hope they intercept it, before I go through the waste of time and trouble of sending it to the "trash" folder.....:p ROFLMAO

Insert "paranoia" emoticon here >> (O)__(O).....(Y'all know I'm jus' funnin' witcha, doncha)?

davislane1 davislane1 said:

If passed, the bill will be burned, stricken from the law, and deemed a travesty to privacy rights as soon as some hotshot intern at an agency somewhere figures out he can sell the scandalous emails of government officials to TMZ for a quick million.

I have to disagree with the "nothing to fear" argument, though. The danger with bills like these is not the immediate threat they impose today, it's the precedent that they set for future legislation. Today, they just want to peek at your emails, tomorrow they just want a whisper of your phone calls, the day after that they just want to see where you like to drive, etc. all for some utilitarian or national security purpose. Next thing you know, you can't blink an eye without someone documenting it. Governments have always been smart enough to maximize their power incrementally with seemingly insignificant bills like this, and that's what the problem is. Should I care that they know what's in my emails, tweets, browsing history? Probably not. Should I be concerned about where this could eventually lead? Absolutely.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

....[ ]..... the day after that they just want to see where you like to drive,
Dude, waddya mean "the day after that"..? Google Progressive's, "Snapshot".. That's been since the day way, way, before yesterday.

I agree with you wholeheartedly about the gradual wresting of control from the citizens, via legislation.

We started with the Constitution, and 10 amendments, plus common / tort / and criminal law brought over from England. Wow, pop into a law library nowadays, and "see how for we've come"!

davislane1 davislane1 said:

Dude, waddya mean "the day after that"..? Google Progressive's, "Snapshot".. That's been since the day way, way, before yesterday.

I knew someone was going to call me on that, lol. The whole vehicle tracking deal is old news, but I wanted my little list of three. :P

matrix86 matrix86 said:

Once again guys once any information leaves your computer it is not secure. So anyone with the appropriate tech can generally snatch that information. Also remember anything that has .com in its name is "owned" by the US govt. SO they have many ways to spy on your information without a warrent.

Although this is true, the government cannot hold any actions against you without a warrant. The law states that you cannot be detained over evidence gathered without a warrant. It's the same as police cannot just walk into your house. find a gun and then throw you in prison. The evidence would not hold up in a court of law and would be thrown out of the case because the evidence was gathered without a proper search warrant. The only loophole to this is if you give them permission to search without a warrant.

I'm not sure what the law is when it comes to subpoenas, though.

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