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October 24, 2011

Protecting Your Online Privacy

Last Friday, October 21, marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). This law is hopelessly outdated and fails to protect your online privacy from government snooping.

That is why I sent the following letter using DownsizeDC.org’s Hands Off the Internet campaign.

The hard-wired message says, “Please oppose any attempts to undermine Internet freedom.”

I added these personal comments, which you may borrow from or copy…

The Justice Department is undermining Internet freedom by exploiting gaps in the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). ECPA must be updated to require search warrants for The State to . ..

* access documents stored online
* acquire location information from mobile phones

ECPA might have been well-intentioned when it passed in 1986. It did not, however, anticipate the World Wide Web or the widespread use of email and mobile devices.

One result, as New York Times reported earlier this year, is that Internet and telecommunications companies are “dealing with a patchwork of confusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts, creating uncertainty.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/technology/10privacy.html)

This uncertainty is a danger to our liberties…

* The Justice Department has argued that cellphone users had given up the expectation of privacy about their location by voluntarily giving that information to carriers
* It also argued that it ought to have access to some e-mails without a search warrant
* In many cases, the government does not notify people that they are searching their online information or prove probable cause
* If the government violates the law in obtaining information, defendants are generally unable to exclude that evidence from a trial

The Justice Department’s position is absurd.

It is true that individuals often consensually give private information to cellphone carriers and Internet providers, just as they give OTHER private information to . . .

* banks
* doctors
* spouses or best friends

But should their bank account information be shared with strangers?

Should their medical records be handed over to neighbors and friends?

Of course not! Voluntarily giving SOME personal information to other private parties does NOT mean that The State is also entitled to that information!

The State is NOT entitled to know:

* My whereabouts
* Personal information about me
* Or private communications from me

This is true whether the information is on paper, in a hard drive, or in cyberspace. The First and Fourth Amendments protect them all.

Moreover, Congress should view the search warrant NOT as an obstacle, but as a neceesary TOOL for effective law enforcement. By requiring an impartial judge to give consent before officials can search my private property, a search warrant…

* Prevents harrassment of innocent individuals or political opponents
* Prevents the accumulation of meaningless data which can misdirect, not help, investigations
* And focuses investigations toward actual criminal wrongdoing, not vaguely “suspicious” activity

A warrant is required if the government wants to search my file cabinet, OR my doctor’s file cabinet. It should ALSO be required if the government wants me, my ISP, or my mobile carrier to access my private information. Please update ECPA to protect our privacy in the Internet Age.

END LETTER

You can send your letter using DownsizeDC.org’s Eduate the Powerful System.

You are not alone in this effort. Senators Wyden, Kirk, and Leahy are offering promising bills. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation is actively promoting this cause.

By participating and spreading the word, you will help achieve a victory.

And you can help expand the Downsize DC reach, today. The DownsizeDC.org Facebook page is just 20 fans away from 11,000. Become a fan today, and share with others.

Jim Babka
President
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.

P.S. Reminder, I will be returning to the airwaves, Wednesday, 2:06 PM Eastern, on the Accent Radio Network, with special guest, Judge Andrew Napolitano of the Fox Business Channel.

If your comment is off-topic for this post, please email us at feedback@downsizedc.org

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