One topic that has been in the news a lot lately, at least in tech circles, is internet privacy and how it should be governed. Of this I have a conflicted view. On one hand I can see the need not to make it legal for any government agency to just be snooping around in your stuff, but on the other hand I do see the benefit to some sort of monitoring.
The current rules that govern electronic communication, The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, are a little outdated I would say. Since 1986 the web has totally change. Think of it this way: Yesterday, November 20th, was the 28th anniversary of the release of Windows 1.0, that's the original version of the operating system that 90% of the world uses now. Internet Explorer wasn't released until 1995, Apple's Safari in 2003, Mozilla's Firefox in 2004 and Google's Chrome in 2008. Much of the web wasn't even thought of in 1986. Forms of communication like Facebook (2003), Twitter (2006) and even Google (~1998) were not even a twinkle in their creators eyes in 1986.
Since that time the web has become a go-to form of communication for many people, companies, not-for-profit agencies, organizations and yes, bad people. Let's face it, the web is faster, cheaper and more secure than face to face interaction, telephony, fax, courier and snail mail. You can communicate and store and transfer large amounts of data with the click of a button. But, good people are not the only ones who have figured this out; bad guys are smart too; and there has to be ways to act at the speed of communication.
The current amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act would allow for certain government agencies to obtain records of emails, data stored online (via Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud etc.) to be obtained by 22 federal agencies without the need for a time consuming warrant only a subpoena would be necessary. This would reduce the time needed to procure, what may be life saving, information. I think this principal has its merits.
One part of the amendment that I disagree with is that the agency would not have to tell you if they have obtained those records for as long as 360 days. This is done for the purposes of ongoing investigations. While on one hand I have watched enough episodes of Law and Order to know that a strong case needs to be assembled, I am a little uncomfortable with the fact that the government may show up on my doorstep a year from now and say "Last year we looked at your Dropbox and Gmail accounts and we didn't find anything."
I am of the opinion that if you don't want something to be out there for the world to see and for your comments pictures and activity to be entombed on the internet for eternity (because they will be) then don't put it on the internet. Use some common sense. But as the old saying goes: "Common sense is not always that common." I am also of the opinion that if you aren't willing to accept your punishment, then you probably shouldn't be a criminal, because at some point you will get caught. There is no such thing as a perfect crime.
Technology will always out-pace Law, there is no disputing that. But I would say that a law that was written in 1986, that is used to govern electronic communications is ancient by the internets standards. Does it need to be re-written? Of course. But I don't want it to be re-written in terms that move us closer to a socialist state like the former Soviet Union or current China. Let's take some time to think about this and write a law that will be able to evolve to support the good citizens on the internet as well as punish the people that use it for evil. Don't just jump at a piece of legislation because you are in a lame-duck session and you want to get it on the books so that you can leave your governmental stamp on the internet.
Obviously, these are only my opinions. And this is only a VERY rudimentary explanation of what is going on. If you want more information so you can form your own opinion I suggest CNETs article by Declan McCullagh (Senate bill rewrite lets feds read your e-mail without warrants), this is the article that broke the news yesterday. And if your opinion is strong enough, I urge you to contact your local Senator (Contact Elected Officials) to let your voice be heard on the matter. And if you want to let me know how you feel, leave me a comment, I'm always open to learning and hearing other peoples point of view.