Greater email privacy won't hinder law enforcement

Published on NewsOK Modified: November 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm •  Published: November 29, 2012
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"I don't see anything (in the Senate bill) that's going to seriously concern law enforcement in terms of our ability to request warrants and to get the contents of the material that we need," said Joseph Cassilly, the state's attorney in Harford County, Md., and a former president of the National District Attorneys Association. "Since you've already got to get warrants for the stuff that's less than 180 days, it's obviously not an insurmountable standard."

Nor does the legislation weaken other methods used by law enforcement for collecting electronic information. A subpoena signed by a federal prosecutor — not a judge — will continue to be sufficient for obtaining routing data from third-party Internet providers that can identify the sender of an email and the location where the message was sent.

Police also can use a judicial order to get the "to" and "from" addresses of an email, but not the contents. These orders must be issued by a judge, but the agency seeking one need only show there is reasonable suspicion of a crime — a lower legal standard than probable cause.

In a Nov. 21 letter to Leahy, 30 former federal and state prosecutors and judges said the bill would provide "a much needed judicial check on when the government can access our private digital information." Concerns that the bill would keep law enforcement from acting quickly during emergencies are unfounded, they added, because the Senate bill does not change a provision in the existing law that compels third-party providers to give the government information in situations where lives are at risk or children are being exploited or abused.

Digital Due Process, a wide-ranging coalition that includes Google, Microsoft and Twitter, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, has mounted a public relations campaign supporting the Senate bill. The coalition says updating the law will clear the "murky legal landscape" for companies and consumers alike and provide the proper safeguards for the vast amounts of information stored in server farms.

There's money at stake, too. The global market for cloud computing via the Internet is estimated to be $240 billion by 2020. But the Business Software Alliance, a coalition member that represents Apple, Intel and Microsoft, said U.S. cloud providers are at a disadvantage unless online privacy and security laws are changed. If consumers aren't sure their information is being properly protected by U.S. firms on the remote, networked computer servers that make up the cloud, they'll take their business elsewhere.

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Online:

Digital Due Process: http://tinyurl.com/yce79za