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Ask TechFreedom's Berin Szoka About Govt. Policy and Privacy Online

samzenpus posted about 8 months ago | from the ask-me-anything dept.

Privacy 29

Berin Szoka is president and founder of the tech policy think tank TechFreedom. The group promotes a wide variety of digital rights and privacy issues. Most recently, they have started a petition demanding reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that law enforcement will have to get a warrant before accessing emails stored in the cloud. With so much attention paid to the NSA snooping, Berin believes that the over 25-year-old ECPA has been overshadowed and is in dire need of changes. Mr. Szoka has agreed to answer your questions about privacy and government policy online. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.

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29 comments

FYI Typo (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45610625)

Berin Szoka is president and founder of the tech policy think tank TechFreedom. The group promotes a wide variety of digital rights and privacy issues. Most recently, they have started a petition demanding reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that law enforcement will have to get a warrant before accessing emails stored in the cloud. With so much attention paid to the NSA snooping, Berin believes that the over 25-year-old ECPA has been overshadowed and is in dire need of changes. Mr. Szoka has greed to answer your questions about privacy and government policy online. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.

How much greed?

I know we can't edit comments, I assume editors can edit summaries... not trying to be a pedant.

Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (5)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45610627)

TechFreedom is part of a broad coalition of dozens of groups across the political spectrum are joining in a Day of Action TODAY to drive up the signature count on our WhiteHouse.gov petition: http://wh.gov/lBibY [wh.gov] We've got nearly 45k signatures but need to hit 100k by December 12. That's the threshold the WhiteHouse requires for getting a response to a petition. (Remember, they raised it from 50k after that "Please build a Deathstar" petition got 50k.) So please take a moment to sign the petition and share it with your friends! Just use the #ECPA hashtag or reshare or retweet our posts: https://twitter.com/TechFreedom/status/408644380946599937 [twitter.com] https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=701905029820560&set=a.621919951152402.1073741825.180669971944071&type=1&theater [facebook.com] This infographic explains ECPA in more detail: http://tch.fm/IHzTtE [tch.fm]

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45611207)

Join Microsoft and others in calling for an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Help us to lock in a requirement that law enforcement needs a warrant before demanding access to data in the cloud. www.aka.ms/ECPA. Sign the White House petition here: http://1.usa.gov/1kfoMUc

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (1)

EricWenger (3454965) | about 8 months ago | (#45611255)

Join Microsoft and others in calling for an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Help us to lock in a requirement that law enforcement needs a warrant before demanding access to data in the cloud. www.aka.ms/ECPA. Sign the White House petition here: http://1.usa.gov/1kfoMUc [usa.gov]

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 8 months ago | (#45616569)

Why so specific? Why not have it something along the lines of "must have warrant for specific business records"?

Or is that too far over the moon?

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 8 months ago | (#45611263)

Considering the White House's.... less than amicable responses to previous petitions, what makes you think yours will make a difference? Do you honestly think you'll get a straight answer from the Liar-in-Chief's staff (because we all know he sure as hell isn't writing the responses)? Other than a rote re-iteration of the law as it's written today, that is.

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (4)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45611323)

I hear you, but ECPA reform needs all the help it can get. Even if the White House blows us off, crossing the 100,000 signature threshold will send a strong message to members of Congress to get behind ECPA reform. Until the leadership in both chambers is willing to schedule a vote, we're stuck.

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 8 months ago | (#45611933)

Well, I appreciate your enthusiasm and am happy to help as much as I can, even though I doubt it'll do a lick of good.

You'd be more effective fundraising and buying your own congresscritter, like the mega-corps do.

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (4)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45612343)

Wow, and I thought I was jaded!

Seriously, though, the problem isn't getting one Congresscritter to work this issue: we already have several very dedicated champions in Congress carrying the banner of email privacy on principle.

The problem is that it takes a LOT of Members to get anything done. In particular, we need the leadership in both chambers -- which means Democrats AND Republicans -- to make it a priority. If we can't get 100,000 signatures, why should they?

Re:Help promote our WhiteHouse.Gov petition today! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 8 months ago | (#45612713)

Wow, and I thought I was jaded!

Oh, yea, you've got nothing on ol' Captain Cynical here. I make Wally from Dilbert look positively human.

Seriously, though, the problem isn't getting one Congresscritter to work this issue: we already have several very dedicated champions in Congress carrying the banner of email privacy on principle.

The problem is that it takes a LOT of Members to get anything done. In particular, we need the leadership in both chambers -- which means Democrats AND Republicans -- to make it a priority. If we can't get 100,000 signatures, why should they?

Fair enough; I'll sign your petition, and forward a copy to my own 'pet' representatives. Good luck in your endeavors.

Would you prefer to live in a world (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45610643)

Would you prefer to live in a world like this? [youtube.com]

Who to elect? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45610729)

Who should the USA elect to best protect their digital rights and privacy? What do you think of Obama's actions so far? What should be done now?

Re:Who to elect? (-1, Flamebait)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 8 months ago | (#45610777)

It's not a question of who to elect, but whom to elect.

Fixing ECPA is not enough.. (2)

sotweed (118223) | about 8 months ago | (#45610735)

It's a lot more than just the ECPA that needs change and being added to our laws. The NSA seems to me
to be out of control. Let's reduce their budget in a major way!

Re:Fixing ECPA is not enough.. (5)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45610953)

No, fixing ECPA isn't enough, but it's a start. It's something Congress can do right now. In fact, they've been dawdling about it for over a year, even after the Supreme Court said, in U.S. v Jones, that Congress needed to overhaul ECPA. (That case focused on access to location data but at least one Justice made clear that the framework of accessing all content stored by third parties, like email, needed reform.)

The good news is that the bipartisan Yoder-Graves-Polis bill [congress.gov] now has 157 House sponsors and is gaining steam steadily.

The bad news is that it's going to take a strong external show of support for ECPA reform to really move, largely because the Securities and Exchange Commission has been fighting to preserve their ability to get emails without a warrant. It's an arcane issue but one with broad implications for privacy, since other agencies, from the IRS to the ATF, could use the same loophole.

Now, if you're really worried about the NSA, the risk here is that, if ECPA reform stalls, it will signal to the NSA's defenders on the Hill that the privacy movement is weak, and if they wait long enough, the whole "Snowden thing" will blow over. At most, we might get a few measly reforms around NSA transparency.

Point being: getting ECPA reform moving is in no way a substitute for fixing the NSA. If anything, it's a prerequisite.

Re:Fixing ECPA is not enough.. (1)

sotweed (118223) | about 8 months ago | (#45611371)

Thank you for you informative response. I've signed the whitehouse.gov petition. And here and
elsewhere, I encourage everyone reading to write to their Congresscritters and demand reform,
rather than posting here. Eventually, they'll get the message.

Re:Fixing ECPA is not enough.. (4)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45612521)

Thanks! Yes, the most constructive thing you all can do now is help us get as many signatures as possible on the petition. That means (a) signing and (b) asking your friends to do so, too.

Re:Fixing ECPA is not enough.. (1)

sotweed (118223) | about 8 months ago | (#45612589)

One other question: Is it clear what "fixing" ECPA means? Do you have a specific proposal? Or is it
just that a warrant is needed to examine "mail", regardless of how long it's been stored, whether it's
in flight or stored.

Everyone talks about "immigration reform" but I think there's a very wide spectrum of what that
means...

Re:Fixing ECPA is not enough.. (1)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45613775)

Oh, yes, we've been quite specific. The Digital Due Process Coalition [digitaldueprocess.org] launched in March 2010 based on four reform principles:

1. A governmental entity may require an entity covered by ECPA (a provider of wire or electronic communication service or a provider of remote computing service) to disclose communications that are not readily accessible to the public only with a search warrant issued based on a showing of probable cause, regardless of the age of the communications, the means or status of their storage or the provider’s access to or use of the communications in its normal business operations.

2. A governmental entity may access, or may require a covered entity to provide, prospectively or retrospectively, location information regarding a mobile communications device only with a warrant issued based on a showing of probable cause.

3. A governmental entity may access, or may require a covered entity to provide, prospectively or in real time, dialed number information, email to and from information or other data currently covered by the authority for pen registers and trap and trace devices only after judicial review and a court finding that the governmental entity has made a showing at least as strong as the showing under 2703(d).

4. Where the Stored Communications Act authorizes a subpoena to acquire information, a governmental entity may use such subpoenas only for information related to a specified account(s) or individual(s). All non-particularized requests must be subject to judicial approval.

The petition we're pushing today is focused on principle #1. Both principles one and two have been incorporated in several pending pieces of legislation. #1, most notably, would be implemented by the Yoder-Graves-Polis bill in the House and the Leahy-Lee bill in the Senate. (Senator Leahy, notably, was the author of ECPA back in 1986.)

Keep up guys. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45610741)

You have no privacy. Online or offline. From either the corporate or goverment.
It's gone. We lost it over the last 20 years on the corporate front. And the last 50 on the goverment front.

We do have a tiny chance to change that. But it's going to take decades to stop and then turn around a bus this big.

The good news is you don't really have much to worry about as long as you're a good little consumer worker drone.
Now off with you. Do your jobs and spend money.

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

repercussions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45610745)

Suppose someone creates an efficient system for decentralized encrypted communication and release it as Free Software; it seems reasonable in today's climate to expect persecution by governments and their agencies. What could the authors do to protect themselves and to still be able to receive donations in order to further develop said system?

Gina McCarthy to Travel to China to Discuss (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45610973)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy will arrive in China beginning on Monday, December 9, to discuss US-China cooperation on air quality, climate pollution and environmental issues. She will travel to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong during her four-day visit.

While in China, Administrator McCarthy plans to underscore steps China has already taken to address air pollution, additional steps to come, and how the United States and China can continue to work together. Highlights of her visit include co-chairing the U.S.-China Joint Committee on Environmental Cooperation; delivering a keynote speech at Tsinghua University; and meeting with senior officials, business leaders and NGOs.

The U.S. and China represent the world’s largest economies, consumers of energy, and emitters of carbon pollution. Climate change is a shared challenge, and building on more than 30 years of successful cooperation and partnership, the United States and China must work together to build a clean energy economy for a healthier, safer planet.

Earlier this year, President Obama announced a Climate Action Plan that outlines commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the biggest individual source of carbon pollution in the United States. In September, the EPA proposed standards for new power plants that are flexible, drive economic growth, and spark the clean energy innovation needed for a low-carbon economy.

China is taking action to address climate change while reducing traditional air pollution and promoting economic growth, and the U.S. stands ready to help.

All times local

Monday, December 9

BEIJING
WHAT: Opening Remarks at International Workshop on Fuel Desulfurization
WHEN: Monday, December 9, 9:40 am
WHERE: Ballroom 1&2, Regent Beijing Hotel

WHAT: U.S. – China Joint Committee on Environmental Cooperation
WHEN: Monday, December 9, 5:40 pm
WHERE: Villa 10, Diaoyutai Guesthouse
Tuesday, December 10

WHAT: Keynote Speech and Town Hall Meeting at Tsinghua University
WHEN: Tuesday, December 10, 10:45 am
WHERE: Tsinghua University, School of Environment

Wednesday, December 11

SHANGHAI
WHAT: China Council Green Business Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility
WHEN: Wednesday, December 11, 2:30 pm
WHERE: Sheraton Shanghai Pudong Hotel

Thursday, December 12

HONG KONG
WHAT: Media availability with Christine Loh, Under Secretary for the Environment, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government
WHEN: Thursday, December 12th, 2:00 pm
WHERE: Berlin Suite, Basement Level, Regal Airport Hotel

You ever get the feeling... (2)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 8 months ago | (#45610989)

...that hosting a personal 'cloud' (email, file server, etc) on your personal internet connection leads to ending up on some list these days?

Re:You ever get the feeling... (4)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45611313)

For real! We're big believers in technological self-help, but even running your own email cloud won't protect you from warrantless collection of your emails: without ECPA reform, government could simply demand emails to and from you held by the cloud providers of those you correspond with.

Mr. Berin Szoka is our only hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45611193)

Mr. Berin Szoka, I've given up.

Check out our lawsuit against the NSA, led by EFF! (4)

Berin Szoka (3454919) | about 8 months ago | (#45611237)

While we're focused on ECPA reform today, we're also working hard to rein in the NSA, both in Congress and in the courts. Check out the lawsuit led by our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the NSA's collection of call records: First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA [slashdot.org] . TechFreedom [techfreedom.org] and the ACLU are among twenty-two plaintiffs in this landmark lawsuit:

At the heart of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA is the bulk telephone records collection program that was confirmed by the publication of an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in June of 2013. The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) further confirmed that this formerly secret document was authentic, and part of a broader program to collect all major telecommunications customers’ call history. The order demands wholesale collection of every call made, the location of the phone, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other “identifying information” for every phone and call for all customers of Verizon for a period of three months. Government officials further confirmed that this was just one of series of orders issued on a rolling basis since at least 2006. First Unitarian v. NSA argues that this spying violates the First Amendment, which protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group.

People are so stupid that they need to use cats... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45613093)

People are so stupid that they need to use cats and other 'cute' things to draw attention to this egregious violation of people's rights, as well as spell everything out in terms that even a monkey could understand. Yet more proof that people are worthless and unintelligent.

It would help if (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45613503)

businesses would ask for a warrant before handing over data.

4th Amendment (1)

Travis Mansbridge (830557) | about 8 months ago | (#45615557)

Signed the petition yesterday! Wouldn't it make the most sense to extend the protections of the 4th amendment to include electronic communication, as it was extended in the 40s or 50s to include telephonic communication, or is that goal too lofty?
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