Why Obama’s ‘big data’ report matters

(60JH) 5/16/14
Lawmakers and privacy advocates are hopeful that the release of the White House’s “big data” report could lend momentum to surveillance, data security and privacy legislation that is pending in Congress. The White House report was commissioned by President Obama in response to last year’s controversy over National Security Agency surveillance, and completed by White House advisor John Podesta and other administration officials.
The report was released this month, and contained a slew of reform recommendations, including changes to email surveillance, the creation of a national data breach standard and the establishment of a baseline for consumer privacy. Supported legislation reforming email surveillance under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) will now make it across the finish line.
Under the 1986 law, law enforcement officials do not need a warrant to access emails that are more than 180 days old. While it’s clear that the law was not written with modern email in mind, civil agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commissions have resisted the legislative overhaul, arguing they need the power to perform warrant less email searches in their investigations. In the House, the Email Privacy Act, which would require a warrant for email access, has 209 cosponsors. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kans.), who authored the Email Privacy Act, said there is growing support for the “common sense” bill.
“Momentum is continuing to build as the public learns more about government agencies reading Americans’ emails and spying on them without due process and without a warrant.” No action has been scheduled” by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said. Lofgren has her own bill that would reform ECPA and require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant for access to geolocation information. A House Judiciary aide said Goodlatte “is working closely” with committee members and outside groups “to identify ECPA reform priorities and geolocation privacy standards.”
“Chairman Goodlatte is interested in pursuing more comprehensive reforms to ensure that the statute sets forth greater civil liberties protections for Americans and clear, long-term investigative procedures for law enforcement,” the aide said. Some advocates are optimistic that Goodlatte will take up the reform bill now his committee succeeded has unanimously passed a bipartisan bill to curb government surveillance.
Last year, the Judiciary Committee passed a bill from Leahy and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant to access emails. Though the bill sailed through committee with bipartisan support, it has not yet come up on the Senate floor.
Rounding out the legislative wish list for privacy groups, the White House’s review called on the Department of Commerce to advance the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” that Obama first proposed in 2012. The report directs the Commerce Department to gather stakeholder input and craft legislation to codify those principles. A Commerce Department spokeswoman said that process would begin “soon.”
“I don’t see a bill like that being able to pass Congress,” he said, because the U.S. has taken a “sector-specific” approach to privacy law.
Sources—the hill, kate tummarello,


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