Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1980s law gives little protection to Internet users from government snooping; more rulings in copyright cases

The main body of communications privacy law, passed in 1986, gives more protection from government search and seizure (without warrants or probable cause) for paper in a filing cabinet than emails or text by Miguel Helft and Claire Cain Miller, “Web Outruns Privacy Law, Authorities Request Flood of Information,” link here.  Online, the title is “1986 Privacy Law Is Outrun by Web”. In fact, that’s the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. The Cornell Law Reference is here. The Act extends to a Stored Communications Act, which deals with pen/trap provisions.

In the mid 1980s, Internet use was rather esoteric, with main protocols (lik html) not yet well established. But another point not understood is that when someone distributes information electronically, in practice there is much greater chance that many more eyes will see it. And many people have misunderstood the concept of "friends" in the digital world.

But it seems that more attention should be paid to privacy with respect to government snooping (as as reaction to Wikileaks), and less to the "harm" of "tracking" users for advertising purposes. But then we have another issue, "See something, say something."

Electronic Frontier Foundation has some important news on copyright, including an amicus brief (Corynne McSherry) in the First Circuit regarding excessive damage awards in copyright cases (link) and another ruling allowing resale of promo CD’s, rejecting a claim by UMG, and reaffirming consumers’ “first sale” rights. More about that will come.

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