Coalition urges better laws for e-mail and cell phone privacy

Information stored on remote computers should be given the same legal protections as data stored on a user's desktop PC, according to report produced by more than 20 activist and human rights groups.

A coalition of influential organizations is recommending to the next President's administration that an 18-year-old privacy law needs overhauling in order to deal fairly with "cloud computing" technologies as well as with cell phone location data.

Part of a much broader package of proposals for legal and policy change, the suggestions on electric privacy included in the coalition's report focus on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986. The more than 20 contributors to the report, entitled "Liberty and Security: Recommendations for the Next Administration," include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology; Common Cause; and the American Library Association, for instance.

Specifically, the report calls for a tightening and clarification of Fourth Amendment standards around issues such as law enforcement access to e-mail accounts, social networks, and "user-generated content," in addition to cell phone location information.

"For example, cell phone service providers now routinely store information about the location of their customers while their cell phones are turned on, but ECPA does not specify a standard for law enforcement access to location information," according to the report.

"Moreover, the emergence of 'cloud computing,' which enables storage on remote computers of business records and information such as personal calendars, photos, and address books, raises new privacy issues that require clear standards for custodians of this information who receive government requests for access to it."

The coalition's electronic privacy recommendations are included in a section of the document called "Secrecy, Surveillance, and Privacy."

Other areas of change proposed by the report include Separation of Powers; Immigration and National Security; Charities and Foundations; and Detection, Interrogation and Trials.

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