Right now, as you read this, the US government may be snooping through your emails, looking at your photos, poring over your online life. Maybe, one day, there will be a knock on your door.
More than likely, though, you’ll never know that the Feds have been right through your inbox. This may sound like the paranoid fantasies of Big Government-hating Tea Party activists, but thanks to a 1986 law, your privacy means pretty much nothing to the Feds online.
Ronald Reagan signed off on the electronic communications privacy act (ECPA) in an early, and prescient, attempt to extend the fourth amendment’s right to privacy in people’s private communications to the electronic age. The bill was passed when only a handful of campus-dwelling computer geeks used email. Technology has moved on since; the ECPA has not.
This week, Google revealed that the US government made 8,438 requests for user data between July and December, up 136% from the last half of 2009 when the search firm started compiling data. More worryingly still, Google’s Transparency Report revealed for the first time just how the US authorities go about collecting this information. In 68% of cases, the requests for information are made using ECPA subpoenas, which do not need a court order.