In simple terms, laws addressing electronic privacy are moving at a speed far slower than the Pony Express while businesses and law enforcement agencies grapple with who should have access to people’s data, according to experts on the South By Southwest panel “When Should My Data Become the Government’s Data?”
Panelists clearly laid out the conundrums that they said have weighed down action on legislation that would advance electronic privacy concerns.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) said that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, established in 1986, made several assumptions about how individuals use email which don’t hold up today.
Yoder believes when it comes to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, email and other electronic communication should be treated the same as a document on a person’s desk. Law enforcement agencies must clear certain hurdles to enter your home and seize paper in your desk drawer; he believes the same standards should be applied to email and electronic communication.
Yoder has sponsored the Email Privacy Act, which first passed the House in 2016, but died in the Senate that session. It was re-filed this year and again passed the House in the first 60 days, but may be stalled again in the Senate.
There are a variety of hurdles to his legislation; law enforcement agencies don’t want to relinquish what access they have to electronic communications and some legislators don’t view the alterations as a priority, he said.
David Snead, general counsel of cPanel and co-founder of Internet Infrastructure Coalition, an industry trade group, illuminated the role businesses may play being caught between individuals and law enforcement agencies.
“Businesses want to figure out a way to cooperate with law enforcement, keeping in mind that the data they have, has been given to them by their customers,” Snead said.