Watchdogs join 'Net heavyweights in call for privacy law reform

‘Digital Due Process’ coalition includes EFF, ACLU, Google, Microsoft and AT&T

They are in some cases strange bedfellows, yet they are lending their names and political muscle to a common cause today: updating U.S. privacy laws that predate the World Wide Web. 

From an Electronic Frontier Foundation press release:

The "Digital Due Process" coalition includes major Internet and telecommunications companies like Google, Microsoft, and AT&T as well as advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT).  The coalition has joined together to preserve traditional privacy rights and clarify legal protections in the face of a rapidly changing technological landscape.

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"The federal law protecting Internet and telephone users' privacy was written nearly 25 years ago, which is eons ago in 'Internet time,' " said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston.  "When it comes to privacy, EFF has had its disagreements with fellow Digital Due Process members such as Google and AT&T.  But this diverse coalition of privacy advocates and Internet companies agree on at least one thing: The current electronic privacy laws are woefully outdated and must be updated to provide clear privacy protections that reflect the always-on, location-enabled, Web 2.0 world of the 21st century."

From an ACLU press release about the coalition's formation:

"Our privacy laws desperately need an upgrade," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Technology has evolved at a lightning pace, leaving our privacy protections out of date and ineffective. The Fourth Amendment guarantees us the right to be secure in our 'papers and effects' and that means something entirely different in the 21st century. Many of our 'papers and effects' are no longer tangible in the same way they used to be but still must be defended from the overreaching hands of government. Congress must step up and make the much-needed changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act."

Here are the four primary areas of concentration the coalition envisions for an overhaul of existing law, according to the EFF:

Better protect the privacy of communications and documents you store in the cloud;

Better protect you against secret tracking of your location through your cell phone or any other mobile device;

Better protect you against secret monitoring of when and with whom you communicate over the telephone or the Internet;

Better protect innocent Americans against government fishing expeditions through masses of communications data unrelated to a criminal suspect.

You can read much more detailed explanations - complete with all the legalese you can handle - at the coalition's new Web site.

Google has a blog post explaining its motivation for joining the group, as well as a video summarizing the effort for those who prefer not to read:

Another blog post from Microsoft and one from Intel.

It's difficult to argue with the overarching goal here: The law needs updating.

Needless to say, however, it will be interesting to see how the coalition holds once actual changes start winding their way through Congress and the varying interests of these member organizations begin to conflict.

That will be a whole different round of press releases.

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