Bob Barr at the Daily Caller:
Ask the average citizen if he thinks his emails and Facebook messages to friends and family members are protected from government snooping, and he’d likely answer, “Sure, the government would have to obtain a warrant before it could go snooping into my personal communications, the same as it must have a good reason to open my physical mail, right?”
Even though far more messages are sent electronically than are sent by “snail mail” (much to the chagrin of the U.S. Postal Service), that snail mail enjoys far more protection from government’s prying eyes than an email or personal Facebook message. This is an anomaly that I and many others — including Facebook, Google and other companies and privacy groups — are working to change through federal legislation. But it’s tough to get members of Congress to pay attention.
The problem is that the degree to which the government can demand access to a person’s “electronic communications” (which include emails, Facebook messages and all other communications sent by phone or computer) is governed by a law that was enacted when the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. The law is the 1980s-era Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”), and despite the fact that the law (which was signed by President Reagan in 1986) was intended to provide a high degree of protection for electronic communications, it is woefully outdated and inadequate.
Unfortunately, this administration, like its predecessors, favors the current situation, precisely because it makes it so easy for law enforcement to access those private communications without having to secure a warrant, as normally would be required by the Fourth Amendment.