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1986 Privacy Law Is Outrun By the Web

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Rising use of the Internet has overtaken the main statute governing communication privacy, according to many Web companies and consumer proponents. Although they acknowledge that access to information is critical for anti-crime and counterterrorism efforts, they say they must contend with a hodgepodge of standards that the courts have not interpreted consistently. "Some people think Congress did a pretty good job in 1986 seeing the future, but that was before the World Wide Web," says University of San Francisco School of Law professor Susan Freiwald.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are worried that their access to important information will be obstructed by advancing communications technology. Internet companies argue that online data is afforded less protection under existing privacy laws, and they argue that email should be just as protected from law enforcement inquiries as information stored in a residence. In general, law enforcement officials do not require a warrant to read email messages that are more than 180 days old, and this differentiates online surveillance from phone call or postal mail surveillance. Moreover, since 9/11 it has become increasingly common for law enforcement to demand the sealing of its requests for information from the targets of probes.

From The New York Times
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Abstracts Copyright © 2011 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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