Google is promoting a White House petition calling for reform to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), amending it to require a warrant for the government to read the email of its citizens.
In a Google+ post – natch – Google asked its followers if they felt their online missives deserve the same protection as their physical mail. Sign the petition, the company continued, to “tell the government to get a warrant” before reading your email.
That the petition exists is not surprising. To see Google publicly promoting it is refreshing. Since Google’s post went live, around 6,000 more people have signed the petition, which is now over halfway to the needed 100,000 signatures.
What the hell is Google banging on about? Well, the ECPA is old, broken legislation that leaves us, the regular folk, unprotected from government intrusion into our affairs. As I reported earlier this year:
Written in a different era, it dictates that any email can be ordered by a mere subpoena provided that it is over 180 days old, or has been opened. Back in the last eighties, the amount of email you could store was constrained by ludicrously small hard disk space. With modern webmail systems today, you can store an unlimited amount of mail.
Thus, given that the bulk of your email is either a half year old or more, or read, the government can under current law access it with little to no oversight.
It’s like the NSA, but legal, and in the open.
In the larger discussion concerning privacy, the United States government has lied repeatedly, something that is incredibly frustrating. However, this specific law is something that we could change, that would in fact make a positive change to our society, and the relationship between our government and ourselves.
Bills have been written (including the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act) that would amend the ECPA, bringing it in line with our broader privacy rules, regulations and mores.
Good on Google for furthering the petition. It likely won’t do much but demonstrate that there exists market appetite for reform among the more active in the electorate. Perhaps that will job Congress. One can hope.