Google wants to limit law enforcement’s access to customer info


By Reuters

WASHINGTON — Google will lobby Washington this year to make it harder for law enforcement authorities to gain access to emails and other digital messages.

In a blog post on Monday, linked to Data Privacy Day, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the tech giant, in coalition with many other powerful tech companies, will try to convince Congress to update a 1986 privacy protection law.

He cited data showing that government requests for Mountain View-based Google’s user data increased more than 70 percent since 2009.

In 2012, Google said, it received 16,407 requests for user data affecting 31,072 users or accounts, more than half of them accompanied by a subpoena.

“We’re a law-abiding company, and we don’t want our services to be used in harmful ways. But it’s just as important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information,” Drummond said in the post.

The U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in the early days of the Internet, does not require government investigators to have a search warrant when requesting access to old emails and messages that are stored online, providing less protection for them than, say, letters stored in a desk drawer or even messages saved on a computer’s hard drive.

The current system also makes complex distinctions, many disputed in courts, between emails saved as drafts online, in transit, unopened or opened. Some of them are to be released with subpoenas, which have a lower threshold than search warrants as they often do not involve a judge.

A warrant is generally approved by a judge if investigators have “probable cause” to believe that their search is likely to turn up information related to a crime.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and popular social media site Twitter — among others — have resisted turning over customer data.

They have put in place policies, based on the constitutional protection from unreasonable searches, that require search warrants for access to content of private communications.

Privacy activists say the outdated law should be reformed to extend the constitutional right to privacy online, but legislation limiting government requests will not face an easy road.

Last year, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would have updated the current law.

It triggered a wave of concerns from the police and FBI that new restrictions would impede crime investigations and possibly endanger victims.

“After three decades, it is essential that Congress update ECPA to ensure that this critical law keeps pace with new technologies and the way Americans use and store email today,” Leahy said in a statement on Monday.

His privacy legislation died in Congress last year after his counterpart in the House of Representatives, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, drafted another version of that bill, which also tackled other issues but stripped out privacy reform language.

Last year, Goodlatte said he was willing to consider the privacy law reform, but that the timeline then was too short for a “thorough examination.”

Leahy has now included the change of privacy laws as one of his top priorities this year.


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Comments (5)
  1. Michael Thompson says - Posted: January 29, 2013

    The new norm, government and Law Enforcement on fishing expeditions.

    You should do some research on the NSA and their big new global (Everything from everybody) Data Center.
    With your smart phone Google now has, where you are, where you have been. What you bought? What you searched what you read. Well pretty much everything.
    It they wanted they could pretty much issue speeding citations by tracking your cell phone.
    Anyone thought about Police entering and reading plate searches on the in Car computer while they drive?
    We cannot talk or text while we drive because its unsafe, but police are constantly interacting with a computer screen while they drive.
    End Tin foil cap Rant.

    For the editor here is an interesting read. The segway, how long before local law enforcment has easy access to everybodies everything?

  2. Dogula says - Posted: January 29, 2013

    That’s exactly why I’m still using a 5 year old pay-as-you-go phone.
    Primitive, but private.

  3. copper says - Posted: January 29, 2013

    Good move for Google, however politically self-serving it might be.

    It’s time for the politicians to step up, but the “anti-government” Republicans love government restrictions on individuals, as long as they don’t disturb their corporate donations. And my Democrats, unfortunately, have other fish to fry and prefer to avoid fights that they can’t win.

    Is there no one out there who will protect individual citizens (sit down, Paul family, we all know better)?

  4. "HangsUpsFromWayBack" says - Posted: January 30, 2013

    Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and popular social media site Twitter — among others — have resisted turning over customer data.

  5. "HangsUpsFromWayBack" says - Posted: January 30, 2013

    Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and popular social media site Twitter — among others — have resisted turning over customer data.