The White House just hired its first Chief Privacy Officer – straight out of Twitter, no less – but the privacy they may be protecting is that of the FBI, not the American people.
According to new internal documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through a Freedom of Information Act request, the content of your emails, Facebook chats, Twitter DMs and all other forms of digital communication chould be at the disposal of law enforcement agencies, even without a warrant.
According to the 2012 FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), as Mashable reports, the FBI states they only need a warrant for emails that are unopened and less than 180 days old. Anything else? Fair game.
The issue here is that digital communications fall within the scope of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a 1986 law. Yes, 1986, as in 27 years ago.
Lawmakers are pushing to reform the law, especially since different areas of the country and different tech companies treat user privacy very differently. For example, Google has long required law enforcement to get a warrant before handing over users’ emails. And when stacked against 17 other sites by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Twitter earned top marks for protecting user privacy.
But in the meantime, the files the ACLU has unearthed are frightening.
Although one document, from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, does state that there is a need for a warrant to access text messages, voicemails, emails, Facebook messages or “private tweets,” one from the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan states that law enforcement can obtain “opened electronic communications or extremely old unopened email” without a warrant.
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee did pass an amendment to the ECPA that would prohibit companies from disclosing the contents of customers’ communications to the government, yet still allow investigators to use a subpoena to access information such as a customer’s name, address and IP address. They now face the challenge of getting the amendment passed in the full Senate.
One document, released to the ACLU by the IRS, states,
“Generally, the policies that govern investigations in the physical world also apply to cyberspace.”
So, what’s the electronic version of Miranda rights? And our right to see a search warrant before allowing law enforcement into our personal business?
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