The 'Just in Case You're a Criminal Someday' Act

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Antidote for an Antsy Congress

Instead of trying to write a law that would require the collection and retention of more of our personal information, Congress should get busy updating laws to protect the data already stored in the digital landscape. Those laws are woefully inadequate.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was passed in 1986 to provide more protection for digital data from government access. ECPA was a fine bill—for a digital world circa 1986, when it passed. In 1986 most of the devices we now use to direct our daily lives didn't exist; today the law is outdated, leaving most of our personal data unprotected or protected inadequately. Currently there are no reliable guidelines for how ECPA should be applied to much of the data we generate, such as data stored in the cloud or to mobile location data.

The most immediate "fix" for this problem is reforming ECPA to require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before accessing such data.

One of our country's founding principles is that a person is presumed innocent unless a compelling case proves otherwise. The data retention mandates in this bill fly in the face of that presumption and put our cherished privacy and free speech rights at great risk. Let's hope Chairman Sensenbrenner's strong opposition wins the day and data retention disappears into legislative limbo.

Leslie Harris is President and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.

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