Google, Microsoft, Intel and other tech companies have teamed up to overhaul privacy laws enacted more than 20 years that define how the government can access user data.
The law the companies are targeting, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, is 24 years old and was created ages before the Internet became mainstream. As a result, there isn’t a lot of clarity about whether documents stored in the cloud or location data from cellphones are protected communications that require search warrants to access.
“The law just hasn’t kept up with technological changes. It doesn’t reflect how people use cloud services,
which creates challenges in terms of compliance,” said Mike Hintze, an associate general counsel at Microsoft. “It creates friction between companies and law enforcement.”
The companies, along with other civil liberties groups, want to update the law so that the files, e-mails and chats they store are considered as protected as the paper documents you might keep in your file cabinet. The coalition is pushing to require government officials to have search warrants before:
They can access user’s private communications or documents stored online
They can track, prospectively or retrospectively, the location of a cell phone or other mobile communications device.
Location data is a particularly sticky point. There are nearly three dozen legal decisions on how and when mobile carriers, ISPs or other types of tech companies should hand over location data to law enforcement officials. Most courts have ruled that government officials need warrants if they want to track a suspect in real-time, but it isn’t codified into law.
The companies are also pushing to have the law require that government officials prove that the requested data is relevant to a criminal investigation when they want access to:
Transactional data in real time about when and with whom an individual communicates using email, instant messaging, text messaging, the telephone or any other communications technology
Transactional data about multiple unidentified users of communications or other online services when trying to track down a suspect
The companies that are part of the coalition don’t expect the law to be reformed this year, but they want to start a dialogue and have policy ideas that legislators can easily pick up and incorporate once the bill gets moving.
Tags: Electronic Communications Privacy Act, privacy
Companies: ACLU, Google, Intel, loopt, microsoft