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Technology Law Gets an Upgrade

September 5, 2013 | Posted In Criminal Law, Recent News - Criminal Law

Technology has been advancing at a steady rate since the manufacture of the first electronic digital computer in the 1940s, but the policies governing computer and Internet security have not kept up with the times. Criminal attorneys in New Jersey report that, currently, the security laws developed in 1986 and 1987 are the most recent standards for Internet protocol and use. But now, Internet developers and users are working to change these standards and bring the country’s laws into the twenty-first century. 

Several large technology and Internet companies are teaming up with forces from both voting parties to back a proposed amendment that aims to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). In July, companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Adobe, and Yahoo wrote an open letter to the U.S. Senate, stating their support. Currently, the law states that government agencies need a warrant in order to seize emails from third-party servers such as Google, but only for messages less than 180 days old. Any messages older than that are considered abandoned under the ECPA, and can be obtained with only a subpoena or court order. In 1986, before email servers were cloud-based, with enormous storage capacities, this law made sense. But the prevalence of email in today’s world, and the current storage capabilities, calls for an update to the law.

The proposed amendment eliminates the 180-day stipulation. If passed, government agencies would be forced to procure warrants before accessing any emails on third-party servers, regardless of when the message was sent or received. American companies who rely on email for business communications and processes will be protected against unlawful searches into their online history. Users can be assured that the updated law will consider their privacy even in the event of a federal investigation. 

Also protected with the new law are people who use email for everyday life. Criminals who have access to a person’s personal information can easily use that data to gain access to banking information, home addresses, and credit card information. Personal data can also be used to trick other websites into believing that an imposter is actually a known user. If an imposter supplies answers to common security questions like a mother’s maiden name, a first pet, or a high school mascot, many of which can be found with minimal digging into a person’s online profiles, then they can easily access private information such as bank accounts or IRS tax profiles, criminal attorneys in New Jersey say. 

The new amendment seeks to mandate that Internet privacy remains protected by federal law, and encompassing all emails in the government’s range of protection is one way of ensuring that site users will remain secure in their privacy. If users feel that they can safely run their businesses, or manage their personal lives, with third-party email providers such as Gmail and Yahoo, they are more likely to take advantage of these services, a factor that has motivated Internet companies to support Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in their proposal. 

At New Jersey-based law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A., the criminal attorneys represent anyone who needs to protect his or her emails, whether for the good of a company or to secure personal information. 

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