Uncle Sam wants you -- and your email

Due to an ancient law, the feds could eavesdrop on your electronic communications, and you'd be the last to find out

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There are two big thorny legal issues here. One is the ECPA, which was written before the World Wide Web and GPS-powered smartphones were even invented, and is desperately in need of updating. The other is data retention requirements.

I've written about the ECPA before. Overhauling it has the support of nearly every big player on the InterWebs, including fierce rivals like Google, Microsoft, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, and many more. In fact, it often seems like the only folks who don't want to update the ECPA are the law enforcement agencies who benefit from its hassle-free approach to snooping.

But data retention is another matter. A bill currently before the House of Representatives would require ISPs to retain subscriber data for an entire year -- essentially so that the feds can conduct fishing expeditions into it and see who they can hook.

For its part, Sonic has publicly stated that it will only retain user data for two weeks, unless ordered otherwise. In a blog post regarding its decision, CEO Dane Jasper notes the following:

Storing logs longer presents an attractive nuisance, and would potentially make our customers the target of invasions of privacy. Any lawyer could simply file a Doe lawsuit, draft up a subpoena and request a customer's identity. It's far too easy.

The EFF is conducting a letter-writing campaign opposing the data retention bill (HR 1981), which is being pushed under the guise of fighting kiddie pornography. You can add your voice here.

I'm not saying law enforcement should be kept from doing its job. I'm saying the protections we have for the other aspects of our lives we might wish to keep private -- the letters we write, the calls we make, the books we read, the things we say and think -- should extend to the digital realm as well. Isn't that how things are supposed to work in the Land of the Free?

What's your take on electronic communications and privacy? Weigh in below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Uncle Sam wants you -- and your email," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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