Cloud computing is easy to use and can instantly create a mobile law office. The privacy of emails and other online documents, however, is becoming more and more of an issue.

A surprising coalition of companies recently banded together to lobby the government for changes to online security laws.

Outdated law makes it easy to obtain information

Under the current law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), lots of individual data can be obtained via subpoena, including Gmail accounts, Facebook, and other cloud-based storage. In addition, the Department of Justice recently argued that cellphone location data is not protected, because individuals waive their expectation of privacy by allowing companies to gather that information.

Other documents, like hard copies of records, and other papers, still require a warrant. But more and more companies and individuals store information online, and it is beginning to blur the line that separates the two standards.

Constitutional implications

The Fourth Amendment was drafted to protect the privacy of papers and other records kept inside of your house. In many ways, email and electronic communications have replaced handwritten letters and correspondence. That type of correspondence traditionally received Fourth Amendment protection.

Under the outdated ECPA, many emails are not given the same protections. Sure, there are ways to setup your email to keep all messages off the server, but what about the recipient’s email settings? Under the ECPA, law enforcement only needs a subpoena to get those emails, rather then procuring a warrant.

Arguably, Facebook and other forms of social media are different. Most social media users are intentionally publishing information for the public (or at least certain individuals) viewing. Email, however, is generally a message from one person to another, just like an old-fashioned letter.

In other words, technology has changed, but the law has not.

(photo: Anonymous Account)