As part of a broad coalition of privacy groups, think tanks, technology companies, and academics, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has issued recommendations for strengthening the federal privacy law that regulates government access to private phone and Internet communications and records, including cell phone location data.
The Digital Due Process coalition includes major Internet and telecommunications companies including Google, Microsoft, and AT&T, as well as advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy & Technology. The coalition has joined together to preserve traditional privacy rights and clarify legal protections in the face of a rapidly changing technological landscape.
"The federal law protecting Internet and telephone users' privacy was written nearly 25 years ago, which is eons ago in 'Internet time,'" said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "When it comes to privacy, EFF has had its disagreements with fellow Digital Due Process members such as Google and AT&T. But this diverse coalition of privacy advocates and Internet companies agree on at least one thing: The current electronic privacy laws are woefully outdated and must be updated to provide clear privacy protections that reflect the always-on, location-enabled, Web 2.0 world of the 21st century."
The group's four recommendations focus on how to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a law originally passed in 1986 before the World Wide Web was invented and when the number of American cell phone users numbered in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of millions. The group recommends that the legal standards under which the government can obtain private communications and records be clarified and strengthened in order to:
- Better protect the privacy of communications and documents people store in the cloud
- Better protect individuals against secret tracking of location through cell phone or any other mobile devices
- Better protect individuals against secret monitoring of when and with whom they communicate over the telephone or the Internet
- Better protect innocent Americans against government fishing expeditions through masses of communications data unrelated to a criminal suspect
"The recommendations of the Digital Due Process coalition are not an exclusive list of the reforms to ECPA that EFF would support, and in some cases EFF would urge even stronger protections than those urged by the group," said Bankston. "However, EFF strongly agrees with its fellow Digital Due Process members that each of the coalition's recommended changes would significantly strengthen the law and better protect privacy."