Remember the ECPA? The bill, and others like it, would require government officials to obtain a warrant before requesting emails and other communication data from any Internet service provider. Some in government don’t like that proposed requirement very much, and are now fighting against it.
The Hill reports that the Justice Department and the SEC have formally asked the Senators working on the privacy bill to exempt them from the warrant requirement. Currently, both agencies can issue a subpoena to acquire the information they want. They argue that being forced to obtain a warrant would impede investigations as they lack warrant authority in civil investigations.
That argument isn’t going over well with civil liberty groups and Internet companies. In fact, Google, Amazon, Facebook and others have submitted a formal rebuttal to the Justice Department’s and SEC’s demands saying that exempting them from the warrant requirement would impact personal privacy:
“Personal privacy would suffer, and the potential for government abuse would expand dramatically, because an individual or company whose records were sought would have no opportunity to object. This would turn civil proceedings into fishing expeditions at a huge cost to individual privacy and the confidentiality of proprietary data.”
So, what about the government’s lack of warrant authority in civil cases? The tech companies say that the government can issue subpoenas to the individuals or companies that are being investigated. They argue that a targeted subpoena is succifient as it allows the defendant to make a decision as to which documents should be withheld. If the government were to issue a subpoena to a service provider, the tech companies say that they “would be forced to turn over all of the information in the target’s account, even if irrelevant to the subject of the investigation or legally privileged, since the service provider would be in no position to make a judgment about what was privileged or relevant.”
Like all other post-PRISM privacy debates, it seems a little silly to see the government arguing against warrant requirements when it has a warrantless surveillance system in place. Granted, PRISM is primarily, but not always, used in the investigation of foreign individuals, but it’s still offensive to see the government arguing for less oversight. President Obama and other lawmakers have said that any government data collection is subject to strict scrutiny, but this latest argument from the SEC and Justice Department shows that the government wants the opposite.