Or as the Digital Due Process site puts it:
A single email is subject to multiple different legal standards in its lifecycle, from the moment it is being typed to the moment it is opened by the recipient to the time it is stored with the email service provider. To take another example, a document stored on a desktop computer is protected by the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but the ECPA says that the same document stored with a service provider may not be subject to the warrant requirement. ... A district court in Oregon recently opined that email is not covered by the constitutional protections, while the Ninth Circuit has held precisely the opposite. Last year, a panel of the Sixth Circuit first ruled that email was protected by the Constitution and then a larger panel of the court vacated the opinion.
Mind you, Google/Microsoft/et al don't want to impede law enforcement or keep them from going after the bad guys; they just want to make sure they get a warrant first, as well as clear direction from the courts as to what is and isn't kosher when it comes to digital surveillance.
Right now, a federal court is hearing a case in Philadelphia that could determine limits on the amount and type of location information the cops can obtain about you without a court order. Parties like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are trying to ensure that location info won't be given out without probable cause, so that law enforcement can't go on location "fishing expeditions" to round up, say, the names and cell phone numbers of everyone who was in a certain area at a certain time. A new, updated ECPA would hopefully make cases like that moot.
It's a good idea, and it's good to see industry rivals -- as well as conservative libertarians groups and folks like the ACLU -- working together on big issues that affect us all. They can always get back to clawing each others' eyes out tomorrow.
Do we need modern laws for our modern digital lifestyles? Post your thoughts below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. But try to be circumspect; you don't know who else might be reading it.