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Leahy Bill Would Give Vital Protection to Internet Communication

Last Updated on May 17, 2011, 7:56 pm ET

On Tuesday, May 17, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would update the privacy protections currently available for Internet communications such as email. Under current law — the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, written by Senator Leahy in 1986 — material stored in the cloud, including email, loses much of its privacy protection after it has been stored for 180 days. Government agents can gain access to this information without a standard 4th Amendment-required warrant.

……………………………..Me in 1986

Claudia wasn’t worried about the privacy of her Gmail account back in 1986, and neither was Congress.

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Leahy’s bill would do away with this arbitrary expiration date, replacing it with a uniform standard for all stored communications: no access to content without a warrant supported by probable cause. In addition, Leahy’s bill would require law enforcement agents to notify the owner that her communications were being accessed subject to a warrant, and provide a copy of the warrant.

The bill embodies several recommendations made by the Digital Due Process coalition, of which ARL is a member. However, the bill is not perfect. For example, although it requires a warrant for real-time tracking of someone’s location using cell phone data, it does not require a warrant for retrospective location information. Still, the bill represents significant improvement over the status quo, and we welcome this improvement.

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