White House Panel: Cloud and Email Content Should Be Obtained with Warrant

All online private content should be protected by the Constitution

By on May 2nd, 2014 09:12 GMT

A panel commissioned by the United States President to examine the implications of “big data” in today’s world, reached a conclusion. In the end, the conclusion was that cloud and email content should be protected by the US Constitution, an idea that the Congress isn’t a big fan of.

The panel recommended that the aged law regarding data be changed to require authorities to obtain warrants to seize content placed in the cloud and email. According to an old piece of legislation, this type of data isn’t protected by the Constitution when it is stored on third-party servers and older than 180 days, which means that old emails are fair game.

This law was adopted a while back, when having old emails on your account was rather uncommon since storage space was nothing like it is today.

“The laws that govern protections afforded to our communications were written before e-mail, the Internet, and cloud computing came into wide use. Congress should amend ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) to ensure the standard of protection for online, digital content is consistent with that afforded in the physical,” reads the document from the panel.

The law in question was actually adopted back in Reagan’s era, but the Congress doesn’t seem to be too happy with the idea. In fact, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a reform last year that requires authorities to obtain a probable-cause warrant to acquire cloud-based data. If this same data were stored on a home computer, law enforcement would need a full warrant.

An amendment that would have fixed this has been sitting idly in the Congress for a while as it was blocked by several lawmakers, hinting at the fact that there’s no real desire to change things and that they’re perfectly ok with everything that’s been going on so far.

A series of civil rights groups and businesses have asked the government to reform ECPA, including companies such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, which have invoked a recent court ruling.

“Consumers deserve clear, understandable, reasonable standards for how their personal information is used in the big data era. We recommend the department of Commerce take appropriate consultative steps to seek stakeholder and public comment on what changes, if any, are needed to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, first proposed by the president in 2012,” the panel also recommended, hinting at yet another bill that should get a makeover.

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