Posted by & filed under Cyberforensics, Digital Policy, Privacy.

Description: Concerned by the wave of requests for customer data from law enforcement agencies, Google last year set up an online tool showing the frequency of these requests in various countries. In the first half of 2010, it counted more than 4,200 in the United States.


Date: Jan 9 , 2011

Many Internet companies and consumer advocates say the main law governing communication privacy — enacted in 1986, before cellphone and e-mail use was widespread, and before social networking was even conceived — is outdated, affording more protection to letters in a file cabinet than e-mail on a server.

They acknowledge that access to information is important for fighting crime and terrorism, but say they are dealing with a patchwork of confusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts, creating uncertainty. Read rest of story

Questions for discussion:

  • Do you feel current privacy laws are meeting the challenges of today’s digital world?
  • What changes do you feel should be addressed in new privacy laws?

10 Responses to “1986 Privacy Law Is Outrun by the Web”

  1. Russ Sommerfeldt

    I feel that the digital world is changing drastically every day, and unless the laws are changing to stay current on issues such as privacy there could be many problems. The difficult part will be putting the necessary boundaries and laws on a limitless platform such as the internet. It will be interesting to see if laws, and those patrolling the laws will be able to control the issues that emerge almost daily. When it comes to the internet, I believe no matter what the laws states there will still be clever individuals who find loop holes to go about doing what they want.

    My knowledge about privacy laws in the digital world is very limited. I do feel that punishment for those found misusing confidential information should be serious enough to produce an apparent decline in such behaviors. It just seems to me that everybody knows the repercussions of stealing a car, or shop lifting, but no one seems to know the laws or consequences of infringing on others privacy online. Lawmakers need to publish this information so it becomes common knowledge if they have not already.

  2. Landon

    From the article, it does not sound as though the current privacy laws from 1986 are meeting the challenges of today’s digital world. It seems that law enforcement has an unfair advantage in regards to the fact they can request account information without the knowledge of the account holder, and it is probably due to this fact that the law has yet to be amended. When you get a search warrant to search a persons house, you give the warrant to the owner of the house informing them of why they are there and what they are after, I think it should be the same for online information as well. I think the person has the right to know if someone is requesting your information and what for. On the side of law enforcement, if they are investigating someone it would be nice if that person didn’t know about it because if they did know all illegal activities would cease defeating the purpose of the initial request to investigate the person. So I think there has to be some way of doing that, maybe have that part of the court order or warrant to the social network requesting that the person not be informed regardless of the privacy policy, there has to be some legal way of doing it.

    For new privacy laws, I think the are of online or digital information and who has access to it should definitely be addressed. The ease of law enforcement gaining access to information should also be addressed, whether it move towards having to get a court order or warrant rather than just a subpoena. Does the privacy policy override law enforcements request not to inform the subject should be addressed. The internet is ever expanding and there will always be threats and infringements, and yes I agree that in some cases law enforcement should be able to get information on people, sometimes even without them knowing, because if you think about it, it is like going undercover in the digital world just without a disguise. Do you have a problem with undercover officers gathering information on a drug dealer to make a legitimate arrest? It is the ease at which they can now do it is an issue. I think law enforcement needs to use some discretion as well, according to Google all requests for information were for legitimate investigations, so it seems they are using discretion and not just simply creating a DB on people. It is a new age, and old laws need to be updated, new laws instated to keep up with it. To Serve and Protect!

  3. selenanova759

    How could privacy laws from 1986 possibly be advanced enough to meet the needs of today’s digitalized world? it was 10 years before many people had an email address much less steady internet and 20 years before many individuals now have several email accounts plus networking personas, online banking, blogging etc etc… the laws at the time could have never accounted for the privacy issues we experience today.
    The scariest part is that those who generally enforce laws are the ones taking advantage of the outdated privacy laws. If this is now acceptable practise how can we be protected against other intruders of our personal information for (more) malicious intent? I dont know much about privacy law in general, but I feel that if one requires a court ordered warrant to search your home and the information within, then the same procedure should be required to search your private online data. there should also be a notice of this to the person in question. They can tell us that it is for our own and for community protection, which is great, but do it within our rights to privacy. Otherwise it’s just government control.

  4. Derek Wilson

    I feel that in the age we live in, everything happens so much faster. You can connect with someone around the world instantly. The internet can be used for free speech but it can also be used to break laws. This means that criminals can work at a much faster rate, so police must be able to work at a much faster rate as well. If you are blatantly asking for trouble, then you should expect it. Just because I can break a law doesn’t mean I should, or that there won’t be consequences. If you really weren’t breaking the law then you shouldn’t have anything to hide. There are two sides to every coin but in my opinion, police must be able to act quickly in a world that is changing so rapidly.

  5. DC

    Yes the current privacy laws are facing challenges. The first challenge is misinterpretation. General users of the internet does not know the extend to which their information should be held back against government authorities, and the authorities seem to be constantly violating the law by making request to companies knowingly that their quest can put companies’ reputation in jeopardy. The email, facebook, twitter etc are now like personal property with users’ personal journal, calendars and meeting posted online, its important for the law to protect users from investigation without absolute and clear warrants and notification of the user. Just like in people’s homes, were authority should seek a warranty before an investigation. On the other hand, the administrators of facebook, tweeter etc should seek laws that help them notify the people of potential privacy bleach whenever government authorities attempt to use their people’s information. The privacy laws should be revised in favor of general users, at this point and time were people use the internet as another digital life in existance, lack of revision of the laws in order to protect people’s information will be a serious drift away from democracy and human right protection.

  6. whyte

    There has been an explosion of information since 1986 when the laws concerning privacy were enacted, and people are sharing more and more personal information on the internet. I agree that the laws concerning an individual’s information on the internet needs to be reevaluated, however in my opinion you can’t group requests from law enforcement agencies to facebook, twitter, and various email providers into one category. The services that these companies provide are intended for different audiences and should be protected under different forms of legislation.
    Emails are intended to be private discussions or conversations between included parties and should be protected under privacy laws. While on the other hand, posts to sites such as Twitter are intended to be broadcast to the public domain, and therefore law enforcement should have access to the information if it is related to an investigation. This leaves sites such as facebook somewhere in the middle and open to debate on to how to protect individuals’ information.

  7. Ashleigh

    According to this article, the current privacy law are not meeting the challenges of the digital world. Everyday the internet is changing and someone is coming out with something new. There is no limit on how much personal information one can give out on the internet, it really is to that individuals discretion. However, it does not seem right that the law enforcements can request to see any type of information at any time on any site. The websites you have provided information on should have their own legal privacy settings and only people within that website can see it. It should only be provided elsewhere under extreme circumstances. In new privacy laws I think they should punish those who use the information in a discretionary manner and they should not keep months of logs behind for example emails to be able to track information.

  8. Chelsa

    The privacy laws put into place in 1986 were acceptable for that period of time. They are not acceptable in the world today. As stated in the article there need to be amendments made to the laws especially with all of the advancements in technology over the past 25 years. There is way to much personal information available online to anyone who wishes to access it. A person just needs to know where to look. This information should not be available to anyone unless the user gives them permission to access the information or the information has been requested under court order. New privacy laws should state that the information on the internet should be treated as information in the home or workplace is treated. Not just anyone should be able to gain access to it for any reason. There need to be legal implications approved by the legal system for access to be granted. Currently the right to privacy is being violated.

  9. Rio P

    I would have to agree that the current privacy laws are being violated as well as that with the progression of social networks and what we can do on the internet, privacy laws need to be examined and amended. Without the proper laws in place we could see more issues arise and a lot of money involved in litigation because there is no consistency with judging and sentencing. However, one issue that is overlooked is that people place a lot of trust in the internet and therefore forget about what they post. Any person can essentially look you up on Google or Facebook and find out everything about you, and that is only because you put it there. If a picture or comment is posted to a public forum, then law enforcement can use this as evidence, however if there is an email between two people, it is intended to be private and therefore shouldn’t be freely examined, but again one must be careful of what they put on the internet.

  10. prab22

    Current privacy laws are not meeting the challenges of today’s digital world. I think law enforcement should not be able to get other people’s information so easily. It is also an ethical issue. For example in the article where it said facebook would have ten to twenty court orders or subpoenas requests a day. If law enforcement is looking at individuals, facebook or twitter profiles that’s okay because the individual should know they are broadcasting it to the public. Ethically I think it’s wrong when it comes to checking people’s emails, spreadsheets or any other private information even if it is law enforcement. If they need to investigate it should be like searching someones house a warrant should be issued before they go around looking at this private information. That is one of the changes I would like to see stricter privacy laws on email, mobile calls and other private aspects of the digital world.

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