March 25, 2013

More privacy intrusion not wanted

The Daily Citizen

— Most of us want privacy. We don’t want prying eyes looking into our business whether it be in our back yards, listening to our telephone conversations or examining our mail, and that includes traditional “snail mail” and today’s emails.

For the most part we are protected from the prying eyes of government into our private affairs. It takes court orders, warrants and subpoenas to tap our phones or intercept correspondence. “Emergency situations” must be proven in most cases for a judge to OK such eavesdropping.

But recently law enforcement groups ranging from the U.S. Justice Department to local police departments asked Congress to pass legislation that would force wireless phone carriers to save every text message customers send, reports CNET, an online news service.

“Billions of texts are sent every day, and some surely contain key evidence about criminal activity,” Richard Littlehale from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation told Congress.

The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act was enacted to extend government restrictions on wire taps from telephone calls to include transmissions of electronic data by computer.

The act has been met with criticism through the years, including its failure to protect all communications and consumer records, due to the law being outdated with the current way in which people share, store and use information. Under the ECPA, it is relatively easy for a governmental agency to demand service providers hand over personal consumer data that has been stored on their servers.

According to CNET, phone carriers retain text message info for varying amounts of time. In 2010, some did not store the contents of text messages. Verizon did for up to five days and Virgin Mobile kept them for 90 days. The carriers generally kept metadata such as the phone numbers associated with the text for 90 days to 18 months, CNET reports. AT&T kept that info as long as seven years.

Demanding that phone service providers must maintain the billions of emails on file for law enforcement seems extremely costly and an unweldy burden on the carriers. Lawmakers could decide that each business should keep text messages and bear the brunt of those costs.

The intrusive demand also fails to make a compelling policy or legal rationale for text messages having less privacy protection.

Electronic messages should have the same protections as your phone calls or the contents of your desk drawer.

If the police, or anyone, requests text messages from your business or even your home, wouldn’t you like to know about it?