Liz Gannes

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Tech Companies Want Warrants for User Data Access

Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and more than 50 other tech companies and industry organizations have come out in favor of a bill that would require government agencies to obtain a warrant to ask for access to electronic communications records or personal content stored in the cloud.


Image copyright Nataly Bannykh

They’ve responded to the Securities and Exchange Commission request for an exception to the proposed law because it doesn’t have the authority to ask for warrants.

The companies said in a letter distributed in the U.S. Senate on Friday that they’d prefer that government agencies go directly to the people and companies they are investigating rather than to Internet service providers.

As is already required for real-time electronic wiretapping, they’d like to see probable cause before government agencies can pull older online records.

The Leahy-Lee Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013 was approved by the Judiciary Committee in April.

Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology, which helped draft and circulate Friday’s letter, called the SEC’s request “a proposal to partially gut the Leahy bill.”

Many of the tech companies involved had already committed themselves on ECPA by joining an advocacy group called Digital Due Process.

Though they obviously cough up user records when they have to, technology companies have raised somewhat similar privacy concerns about giving the National Security Agency access to user information, especially amid widespread publicity of government surveillance in recent months. That’s handled separately as part of the intelligence process, versus the criminal process.

Unlike the united front on ECPA, differing approaches for handling the secrecy around intelligence processes led to tech companies bickering publicly about how open they are truly being.

Here’s the letter:

CDT Letter on ECPA

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First the NSA came for, well, jeez pretty much everybody’s data at this point, and I said nothing because wait how does this joke work

— Parker Higgins via Twitter