Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NetiquetteIQ - Electronic surveillance by the US is not new

Seal of the government of the US

Again, it can be stated that Netiquette does include the possibility that emails are not private and that there is no expectation of full privacy. This should always weigh in on the utilization of one's email.

Since the details of the NSA PRISM (see my post of 6/9/2013) initiative were leaked to the press in early June, there has been a mixture of surprise, outrage and wide range of responses from "pro" and "con" perspectives. However, it was not shocking at all to those who are aware of the various laws passed since 1986 when the Electronic Communication Privacy Act gave authorization to law enforcement agencies to monitor email and other forms of electronic communications.

Summary of the ECPA

As written in Wikipedia, "email that is stored on a third party's server for more than 180 days is considered by the law to be abandoned, and all that is required to obtain the content of the emails by a law enforcement agency, is a written statement certifying that the information is relevant to an investigation, with absolutely no judicial review required whatsoever.

When the law was initially passed, emails were stored on a third party's server for only a short period of time, just long enough to facilitate transfer of email to the consumer's email client, which was generally located on their personal or work computer. Now, with online email services prevalent such as Gmail and Hotmail, users are more likely to store emails online indefinitely, rather than to only keep them for less than 180 days. If the same emails were stored on the user's personal computer, it would require the police to obtain a warrant first for seizure of their contents, regardless of their age. When they are stored on an internet server however, no warrant is needed, starting 180 days after receipt of the message, under the law.
The ECPA also increased the list of crimes that can justify the use of surveillance as well as the number of judicial members who can authorize such surveillance. Data can be obtained on traffic and calling patterns of an individual or group without a warrant, allowing an agency to gain valuable intelligence and possibly invade privacy without any scrutiny, because the actual content of the communication is left untouched. While workplace communications are in theory protected, all that is needed to gain access to communiqué is for an employer to simply give notice or a supervisor to feel that the employee's actions are not in the company's interest. This means that with minimal assumptions an employer can monitor communications within the company. The ongoing debate is on where to limit the government's power to see into civilian lives, while balancing the need to curb national threats". Since the ECPA, additional laws have been enacted, each providing more latitude for email monitoring. These will be topics for future blogs.

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Paul Babicki
+Serkan Gecmen
"Good Netiquette Writing!"