Internet giants call for new privacy rules for digital age

31 Mar 2010

A consortium of the who’s who in cyberspace – including Google, Microsoft and eBay – are calling for new privacy protections for the digital age and in particular want the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) 1986 rewritten to reflect new realities.

The call will put to the test a promise US President Barack Obama made two years ago that he would strengthen privacy protections for the digital age.

In a blog this morning, Google senior counsel in charge of Law Enforcement and Information Security Richard Salgado pointed out that a lot has changed since 1986 when a gallon of gas cost 86 cents. “Gas is now measured in dollars and Taylor Swift (born in 1989) won album of the year.

“All the while, technology has moved at record pace. But ECPA has stayed the same.

“Originally designed to protect us from unwarranted government intrusion while ensuring that law enforcement had the tools necessary to protect public safety, it was written long before most people had heard of email, cellphones or the ‘cloud’ — the term used for programs helping people store personal data like photos and documents online. As a result, ECPA has become outdated,” Salgado said.

Google has joined a consortium of key players in the internet space and civil rights bodies including eBay, AOL, AT&T, Intel, Microsoft, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and to found Digital Due Process to provide privacy protection to new and emerging technologies.

Salgado said that Digital Due Process wants to do four key things:

·        Better protect your data stored online: The (US) government must first get a search warrant before obtaining any private communications or documents stored online;

·        Better protect your location privacy: The government must first get a search warrant before it can track the location of your cellphone or other mobile communications device;

·        Better protect against monitoring of when and with whom you communicate: The government must demonstrate to a court that the data it seeks is relevant and material to a criminal investigation before monitoring when and with whom you communicate using email, instant messaging, text messaging, the telephone, etc.; and

·        Better protect against bulk data requests: The government must demonstrate to a court that the information it seeks is needed for a criminal investigation before it can obtain data about an entire class of users.

“(The year) 1986 was a good year, but it’s time our laws catch up with how we live our lives today,” Salgado said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Digital Due Process online

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years