One More Day to Solicit Obama's Support for Electronic Privacy

CompuServe adCompuServe adThe National Security Agency's collection of metadata such as telephone records and cellphone location information has sparked considerable outrage since it was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last spring. But it is aguably less troubling than the privacy threat highlighted by a We the People petition that has one more day to collect the signatures it needs to trigger a White House response: the vulnerability of communication content that has resulted from a combination of evolving technology and the Supreme Court's misguided "third party doctrine."

According to that doctrine, which the Court developed in the 1970s, information voluntarily disclosed to third parties such as banks, accountants, and telephone companies is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. It therefore receives only as much protection as legislators decide to give it. Congress responded to this challenge back in 1986 by passing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which aimed to make sure that messages delivered by newfangled means received the same protection as messages delivered by mail or telephone wire. But in the 27 years since then, ECPA has become woefully out of date, to the point that law enforcement agencies can plausibly claim they do not need a warrant to read your email or peruse other files held on remote servers, even though the same information would be protected if it were stored on your computer at home. Given the ubiquity of remote storage for all sorts of sensitive information, that is a pretty scary loophole, which is why legislation aimed at fixing this problem has attracted bipartisan support in Congress.

But although the Justice Department has retreated from its longstanding position that the government may read email at will as long as it has been opened or stored longer than six months, the Obama administration so far has not explicitly endorsed ECPA reform. That is where the We the People petition comes in. It currently has more than 75,000 signatures, less than 25,000 shy of the threshold for a response from the president. "We think that, if he's forced to take a stance, he'll throw his weight behind reform," says TechFreedom President Berin Szoka. Attorney General Eric Holder has said a warrant requirement for email "is something that I think the [Justice] Department will support." Tomorrow is the deadline for collecting 100,000 signatures, and the petition is more than three-quarters of the way there.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...the privacy threat highlighted by a We the People petition that has one more day to collect the signatures it needs to trigger a White House response...

    Like I want to give the Obama administration another IP address to go after.

  • ||

    information voluntarily disclosed to third parties such as banks, accountants, and telephone companies is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.

    Since most of those third parties "voluntarily" request this information through government diktat it is not much of a chore to circumvent the Fourth.

  • sarcasmic||

    Are there any more polls?

    Is Mandela still dead?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Even if they get the required number of signatures, the response from the White House will be, at best, a statement from Obama/Holder about the need for reform, followed by a screaming empty void where any action should be. More likely it will be a retreaded response about the need to balance freedumbs with the need to protect the American suckers from any risk whatsoever.

  • ||

    "...trigger a White House response..."

    Is there anyone who doesnt already know what that will be?

    They take our concerns seriously and will look into it? Or some other code for FUCK YOU?

  • tarran||

    Why would any sane person sign this petition?

    Do you really want to provide those assholes with your email address while announcing that you are their enemy?

    Who is so stupid as to actually touch anything on that website?

  • sarcasmic||

    "Hey! Look at me! I'm one of the ones you want to round up when the inevitable Great Purge comes! Over here!"

  • Hugh Akston||

    "We think that, if he's forced to take a stance, he'll throw his weight behind reform," says TechFreedom President Berin Szoka.

    Because Obama's record on electronic privacy so heavily weighted toward the individual?

    Attorney General Eric Holder has said a warrant requirement for email "is something that I think the [Justice] Department will support."

    Sure, since the warranting process is basically a fig leaf of legality covering carte blanche for the police state. What do they have to lose?

  • ||

    OT; Turned on Faux News. Female newscaster discussing with all female experts how amazing it is that GM hired a female CEO and asking if the barriers for women are finally overcome.

  • ||

    Oh, I forgot to mention, this was right after a report ripping on Kathleen Sebelius.

  • Free Society||

    War on women!!! rabble rabble rabble

  • ||

    if the barriers for women are finally overcome

    Not in my office! But in my office, in order to get a promotion, you have to fuck up really badly or speak out-of-turn to the client. I'm not really able or willing to do either of those.

  • Sunmonocle Backwards Tophat||

    I liked Google's Grace Hopper thing the other day. She got respect because she was amazing, not because she was a woman. I wish the commentariat would stop with the "first ___ to ___" stuff; it just makes it seems that women and minorities are catching up to The White Man (RIP White Indian, greatest troll). If they focused on contributions outside the frame of a class, they'd see there are plenty. Progress isn't just about CEO's and such.

  • Free Society||

    Obama has already shown that he may or may not address the Whitehouse.gov petitions that he promised to address. Even when he does, it varies from empty platitudes to outright ridicule.

  • Enough About Palin||

    If you like your Whitehouse.gov petition you can keep it.

  • Warfario||

    I would sign it, but there is no way in hell I am creating a whitehouse.gov account.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Given the NSA's practices, I believe I can petition the government right here: PLEASE PROTECT MY PRIVACY. OH, AND WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, PLEASE ABSORB THIS FOLLOWING MESSAGE: "NO, FUCK YOU, CUT SPENDING."

  • Adam.||

    This petition isn't even going to cross the finish line and the stupid shit petition about the death star blew right by it. People are fucking idiots.

  • Lord Humungus||

    Is that a VIC-20 or a C64? Based on the color, I'm leaning VIC-20.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement