July 19, 2024

When Technology Sanctions Backfire: The Syria Blackout

American policymakers face an increasingly complex set of choices about whether to permit commerce with “repressive regimes” for core internet technologies. The more straightforward cases involve prohibitions on US import of critical network technology from states that we suspect may include surveillance backdoors. For example, fears of “cyber espionage” have fueled a push for import […]

Zuckerberg Goes to Russia as the Global Network Initiative Turns 4

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) was founded in October 2008 to help technology firms navigate the political implications of their success. Engineers at the world’s leading technology firms have been incredibly innovative, but do not always the global dynamics of their innovation. Moreover, they do not always acknowledge the ways in which politicians get involved […]

Court Rules Email Protected by Fourth Amendment

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the contents of the messages in an email inbox hosted on a provider’s servers are protected by the Fourth Amendment, even though the messages are accessible to an email provider. As the court puts it, “[t]he government may not compel a commercial ISP to turn over the contents of a subscriber’s emails without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.”

This is a very big deal; it marks the first time a federal court of appeals has extended the Fourth Amendment to email with such care and detail. Orin Kerr calls the opinion, at least on his initial read, “quite persuasive” and “likely . . . influential,” and I agree, but I’d go further: this is the opinion privacy activists and many legal scholars, myself included, have been waiting and calling for, for more than a decade. It may someday be seen as a watershed moment in the extension of our Constitutional rights to the Internet.

And it may have a more immediate impact on Capitol Hill, because in its ruling the Sixth Circuit also declares part of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act unconstitutional. 18 U.S.C. 2703(b) allows the government to obtain email messages with less than a search warrant. This section has been targeted for amendment by the Digital Due Process coalition of companies, privacy groups, and academics (I have signed on) for precisely the reason now attacked by this opinion, because it allows warrantless government access to communications stored online. I am sure some congressional staffers are paying close attention to this opinion, and I hope it helps clear the way for an amendment to the SCA, to fix a now-declared unconstitutional law, if not during the lame duck session, then early in the next Congressional term.

Update: Other reactions from Dissent and the EFF.

Tech Policy in the SkyMall Catalog

These days tech policy issues seem to pop up everywhere. During a recent flight delay, I was flipping through the SkyMall Catalog (“Holiday 2009” edition), and found tech policy even there.

There were lots of ads for surveillance and recording devices, some of them clearly useful for illegal purposes: the New Agent Cam HD Color Video Spy Camera (p. 14), the Original Agent Cam Color Video Spy Camera (p. 14), the Video Recording Sunglasses (p. 23), the Wireless Remote Controlled Pan and Tilt Surveillance Camera (p. 23), the Spy Pen (with hidden audio and video recorders, p. 42), the Orbitor Electronic Listening Device, and the GPS Tracking Key (p. 224)

There were also plenty of ads for media-copying technologies, of the sort that various copyright owners might find objectionable: the LP and Cassette to CD Recorder (p. 16), the Slide and Negative to Digital Picture Converter (p. 17), the Digital Photo to DVD Converter (p. 20), the Easy Ipod Media Sharer (p. 27), the One Step DVD/CD Duplicator (p. 31), the Photograph to Digital Picture Converter (p. 40), and the Crosley Encoding Turntable (converts LP records to MP3s, p. 179).

Are these things illegal? Probably not, I guess, but there are surely people out there who would want to make them illegal. And some of them are pretty good ways to get a tech policy debate started.

I’m not about to start reading the SkyMall catalog for fun. But it’s interesting to know that it offers more than just Slankets and yeti statues.