The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, enacted in 1986 continues roil the Internet and social networking world. On the one hand in section one, known as the Wiretap Act, it outlines the protections afforded parties against electronic surveillance and the second section, known as the Stored Communications Act, it outlines the privacy protections afforded the contents of such information by the service providers.
Twitter & Wikileaks
This article in the New York Times suggests the tension within the act between allowing the government quick and efficient access to electronic information in the form of emails and tweets etc. versus the need for service providers to disclose to the user under the same law that information about the user’s account has been requested. In the Wikileaks case, because Twitter followed its policies to notify users about requests for information prior to disclosure, the public now knows that the Justice Department is investigating Wikileaks.
Much of the privacy debate has concerned how individuals can protect themselves against company and government’s collection of data about them when rights to privacy are eroding. Disclosure has been a promising way to counterbalance the technological means to learn so much about so many. However, in the case of the government, which needs to conduct criminal investigations covertly, this idea of disclosure, works against the government’s ability to effectively build a case against potential criminal activity.