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Google, AT&T, Microsoft, public interest groups call on Congress to update privacy laws of cloud, mobile computing

Clarification: Sprint Nextel didn't give information on 8 million subscribers, it was pinged 8 million times by law enforcement for location-based information on some subscribers.

Google, Microsoft and AT&T joined public interest groups in a call for Congress to update electronic privacy laws so that personal online data can be obtained only by law enforcement with a search warrant.

Today, local and federal law enforcement routinely ask high-tech companies and telecom service providers for information like e-mail and documents (that reside in cloud applications) and data about mobile device users. Sprint Nextel, for example, reportedly has given location-based data about its subscribers to local law enforcement, who had pinged the company for information 8 million times. Check out this story from Post Tech about a debate on privacy in the cloud.

And the reforms come amid confusion as to how pre-Internet rules like federal wiretapping laws apply to the Internet age. In Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter on Tuesday called for an update to that law – which applies to voice conversations -- to also apply to videos and other visual images. Specter spoke Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee field hearing.

The coalition called on lawmakers to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 to account for new technologies.

“ECPA can no longer be applied in a clear and consistent way, and, consequently, the amount of personal information generated by today’s digital communication services may no longer be adequately protected,” the groups said in a statement. The coalition includes the Center for Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Their recommendations:

  • A government entity would need a warrant to get information and communications stored in the cloud.
  • A warrant would also be required for law enforcement to track your location on cellphones.
  • To secretly monitor whom you communicate with over the phone and Internet, a government entity would have to provide to a court that that information was part of a authorized criminal investigation.

  • By Cecilia Kang  |  March 30, 2010; 1:44 PM ET
    Categories:  AT&T , FTC , Google , Microsoft , Privacy  
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    Next: Conyers, lawmakers promise hearings on privacy law this spring


    New technology has advanced at breakneck speed while electronic privacy law remains stuck in the digital dark ages. ECPA is confusing and inadequate and that hurts internet users and businesses alike.

    The ACLU supports the coalition principles for ECPA reform and also believes that the law should extend probable cause protection to other types of records (like who you call, text and email), that illegally obtained digital information shouldn’t be used in court, and that there should be strict record-keeping of all law enforcement requests.

    You can read the ACLU’s position here:

    Please tell your congressional representative that you want better online privacy protection:

    Demand a privacy upgrade – Demand your dotRights!

    Posted by: Demand_Your_dotRights | March 30, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

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