Archive for December 3rd, 2012

News Digest 12/3/12

Monday, December 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Even judges and prosecutors support privacy

Monday, December 3, 2012 at 10:03 am by

In an immense showing of support for the preservation of civil liberties, 30 former judges and prosecutors wrote a letter praising Senator Patrick Leahy’s proposed amendments to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

As another instance in which the law has not necessarily caught up with the advancements of the technological realm, the outdated language of the 1986 law ECPA does not fully address the privacy issues implicit in today’s digital age. This is especially salient in reference to exchanges through the internet, which has increasingly become an essential facilitator of communication.

Senator Leahy’s amendment would require police investigators to seek a warrant through probable cause before conducting any searches into private digital communications, or present a subpoena directly to the individual in question. Certain provisions of the bill would also require the target of such searches to be notified of that action.

The additional requirement of a warrant would not act as a barrier to police efficiency, but would advantageously affect their work. In their letter, the singers argued that such mandatory conditions would:

 “… place law enforcement officers on more solid ground when they access private electronic communications, and make it more likely that important evidence of crime is not thrown out in criminal cases. [Moreover], Senator Leahy’s bill does not amend exceptions found in current law regarding emergencies involving danger of death or serious injury.”

Additionally, the signers also drew upon the words of Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion in United States v. Jones (2012), in which she argued that many conventional approaches to privacy are inappropriate and unbefitting in light of current technological advances. It is essential that the digital communication of today (including emails, online documents, and text messages) be subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections that are customarily provided for more traditional forms of communication.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve these amendments last Thursday, November 29th, but further work to restore privacy remains. Even under the proposed amendments, for instance, government agencies could still secure access to any private data without a judicial warrant by simply claiming that it relates to national security.

To show your support for privacy principles even beyond the proposed ECPA amendments, add your name to the growing petition of other Americans from all walks of life who also support changes to laws in order to restore civil liberties.