B12 Solipsism

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1986 Privacy Law Inadequate For 2011 Digital Society

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Popo Starry Pants

The mentality of law enforcement is that since there is information available about suspects, law enforcement officers should have free reign to sift through it, no matter what. However, if one is a suspect, and a warrant is executed for one’s home, the officers are usually limited to certain areas as precisely described by the warrant, they are not1 allowed to look through every single nook and cranny, unless the warrant has been constructed this broadly. Why isn’t digital data treated the same way?2

SAN FRANCISCO — 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.

Google is not alone among Internet and telecommunications companies in feeling inundated with requests for information. Verizon told Congress in 2007 that it received some 90,000 such requests each year. And Facebook told Newsweek in 2009 that subpoenas and other orders were arriving at the company at a rate of 10 to 20 a day.

As Internet services — allowing people to store e-mails, photographs, spreadsheets and an untold number of private documents — have surged in popularity, they have become tempting targets for law enforcement. That phenomenon became apparent over the weekend when it surfaced that the Justice Department had sought the Twitter account activity of several people linked to WikiLeaks, the antisecrecy group.

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— enacted in 1986, before cellphone and e-mail use was widespread, and before social networking was even conceived — is outdated, affording more protection to letters in a file cabinet than e-mail on a server.

(click to continue reading Privacy Law Is Outrun by Speed of Web’s Progress – NYTimes.com.)

For some reason, The New York Times didn’t actually link to this Google tool, I’m not sure why. Anyway, after a few minutes of searching3, found it.

Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. This map shows the number of requests that we received in six-month blocks with certain limitations.

(click to continue reading Google Transparency Report: Government Requests.)

As of the current moment, Google has received 4287 requests for information in the United States alone4 from law enforcement in the last six months (an average of 714.5 requests a month, or nearly 24 requests a day).

Footnotes:
  1. officially []
  2. I am not a lawyer, and all my information comes from stupid television shows, so don’t laugh too loudly if I’m wrong []
  3. longer than I thought, actually []
  4. that Google is allowed to mention – perhaps not including some alleged participants in the War on Terror []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 11th, 2011 at 11:48 am

One Response to '1986 Privacy Law Inadequate For 2011 Digital Society'

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  1. […] Seems like a simple question, but law enforcement doesn’t want to accept that electronic communications have replaced handwritten documents. There shouldn’t be a distinction based solely on the medium the communication uses. If I have a safe in my house with personal documents,1 the police need a warrant to open it. Why should my email folder be any different? […]

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