Under the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, data stored on the cloud lack the privacy standards that apply to locally stored data, like a person’s hard drive. Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy has pledged to update digital privacy law, but CNET reports that a rewritten version of the bill would grant more than 22 federal agencies access to “Americans’ e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages” without a search warrant.
The bill potentially up for committee vote next week would require a subpoena for searches, and still requires police to obtain warrant under many circumstances. According to CNET, the earlier version of the bill had stricter protections that would have required probable cause for a search warrant. The rewrite reportedly includes major changes:
– Grants more than 22 federal agencies warantless access to American’s electronic correspondence warrantless, with a subpoena.
– Authorizes law enforcement agencies to access accounts without a warrant or court review if there is an “emergency” situation.
– Providers “shall notify” law enforcement in advance of telling users they were target of warrant, order or subpoena.
– Would delay notification of accounts accessed from 3 days to “10 business days,” that can be postponed up to 360 days.
As Americans increasingly use digital services, wireless monitoring has soared, revealing information about users’ location, travel, calling patterns, and texting, while warrants for wiretap surveillance have dropped 14 percent. The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act already leaves e-mails unprotected after 180 days. While it “requires a warrant for the government to access photos, calendars and other private data stored on laptops or desktop computers at home” it does not do the same for “files stored with a service provider in the “cloud.”’
Forbes notes that CNET’s report appears to be based on one of many versions of the bill, but may not be the draft seriously considered next week. A Senate Judiciary aide said Leahy “does not support broad carve outs for warrantless searches of email content. He remains committed to upholding privacy laws and updating the outdated Electronic Privacy Communications Act.”