Privacy

Privacy with your digital data is governed by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Does this sound like something new, maybe a law put into place when Facebook was getting popular? If so, you may be shocked to find out that it's three decades old. That's right; it started in 1986.

You can see how absurd this is. People barely used the Internet. Social media hadn't been invented. A lot of people didn't know what email was. The world has changed rapidly, and experts warn that this old law has serious loopholes that could strip you of the privacy that you expect and deserve.

Emails Can Be Opened, Warrant or Not

One example is that the police don't need a warrant to open your email messages. All they have to do is wait. Once 180 days have gone by, anything is fair game. With cloud-based email systems that save every shred of data for decades, this is ridiculously short.

Another issue is that it runs counter to most other privacy laws. If someone wrote the letter in longhand and mailed it to you, the police could very rarely go after it without a warrant; they can only do that in extreme situations, such as if someone else may be injured. Why is email different? Maybe because people in 1986 didn't anticipate a world in which letters were rare and electronic communication was used almost exclusively.

The Cloud

Another issue is that cloud-based information is often not well protected. "The cloud" is a fancy way of referring to remote servers. If you have Gmail, for instance, you're using the cloud. Most online platforms use this. Steps have been taken to put more protections in place, including a bill that has made it through the U.S. House, but it's not a law yet. It would make it so that cloud data couldn't be accessed without a warrant.

It's going to be crucial to keep an eye on this bill and to think about the need for digital law reform. The world is a different place than it was 30 years ago.

Your Privacy

Never assume that laws give you a specific level of protection. Laws can grow outdated quickly when it comes to technology that people use every day. Make sure you know what rights you have to privacy if and when these laws change.

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