Your snitching cellphone, your tattling texts

Your text messages could be open to police examination if cops get their way with the Electronic Privacy Communications Act

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If that doesn't worry you, it should. Per the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Subpoenas are issued under a much lower standard than the probable cause standard used for search warrants. A subpoena can be used so long as there is any reasonable possibility that the materials or testimony sought will produce information relevant to the general subject of the investigation....

Subpoenas can be issued in civil or criminal cases and on behalf of government prosecutors or private litigants; often, subpoenas are merely signed by a government employee, a court clerk, or even a private attorney. In contrast, only the government can get a search warrant.

The good news is that a subpoena doesn't carry the same legal weight as a warrant. It doesn't allow someone else to paw through your records or enter your home, for example. In fact, the EFF advises people who receive a subpoena to do nothing in response except contact their attorneys. But most people don't know that. They see the word "subpoena" and they comply with it.

No one is saying the police should be hampered in doing their jobs. On the other hand, offering virtually unfettered access to troves of data about citizens who aren't necessarily being charged with a crime is an open invitation to legal fishing expeditions, if not outright abuse.

A new improved ECPA is an excellent opportunity to strengthen all of our digital privacy rights without giving a blank check to Johnny Law. Let's hope Congress sees it that way as well.

What digital privacy laws do you want to see passed? Submit your proposed legislation below or filibuster me at cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Your snitching cellphone, your tattling texts," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry withRobert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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