Digital Privacy

digitalageNew technologies offer the promise of easier lives and faster access to more information, but we aren’t the only ones benefiting from these advances. Technology improvements erode existing protections and greatly expanded powers for our security agencies allow the government to peer into our lives without due process or meaningful oversight. Our rights and liberties have undergone constant erosion since 9/11. Add that to the fact that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) hasn’t been updated since 1986 – the age of brick phones – and we have a serious privacy issue on our hands every time we log onto our computers or use our cell phones.

More than a decade after 9/11, the websites we browse are tracked, our cell phones log our movements, our tweets are monitored by the FBI and the NSA can secretly wiretap our calls without any judicial oversight. New revelations about how the NSA is tracking who we call and when, and collecting our emails seem to be coming to light every week.

Privacy laws have failed to keep up with emerging technologies. We want to ensure that privacy rights are strengthened rather than compromised by new technology, and to protect these core democratic rights against intrusive corporate and government practices that rely on new technology to invade these rights.

The ACLU is constantly working at the state and federal level to support legislation that will expand privacy protections and rollback the abuses instituted in the name of national security. We successfully supported bills during the 2013 Montana Legislative Session to mandate warrants for state and local law enforcement to access cell phone and mobile device tracking data and to use drone footage. Montana was the first state to enact a mobile tracking law and one of the first to legislate the use of aerial drones.

But there is still work to do. Invasions of our privacy rights don’t make us safer, they only make us less free.

Digital privacy laws should:

  • Protect Personal Information. The government shouldn’t be able to get personal electronic information (like email, online documents, and search records) without a warrant, just like they can’t enter your home and take your personal papers without a warrant. Employers shouldn’t be able to require your Facebook and email passwords when you apply for a job.
  • Safeguard Location Information. Cell phones transmit your location, but your cell phone shouldn’t be used as a personal tracking device without a warrant or even your knowledge.
  • Prohibit Use of Illegally Obtained Information. If the government breaks the law, shouldn’t there be consequences? Law enforcement shouldn’t be able to continue to use electronic information obtained illegally.
  • Require Transparency Around Information Collection. The law should require notice and regular reporting so you know when and why companies turn over your private information to the government.

Learn more

The NSA and Your Privacy – a short Nov. 8, 2013 podcast with ACLU National Security Project Attorney Patrick Toomey
Demand Your dotRights
ACLU: Protecting Civil Liberties in the Digital Age
Free Future — The ACLU’s privacy blog
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Center for Democracy and Technology

Video from the 2012 conference Privacy in the Digital Age: Is the Fourth Amendment Still Relevant in Today’s Technological Age?