Growing attention to individuals’ online privacy has prompted Congress and federal agencies to begin proposing and reviewing laws that would change how consumers interact with the online world.  With the advent of free cloud-based email and applications, any change in law should strengthen individuals’ right against government monitoring online activity while allowing consumers options to protect their privacy without a one-size-fits-all government regulation.

Privacy in Cloud Computing

Today, millions of individuals communicate using email and other Internet and cloud-based applications, yet the law that protects them from government monitoring data transmitted over the Internet is woefully out of date.  The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), last amended in 1986, permits government to access data without a warrant or after a certain number of days have passed.  Recent court cases have found this to be a violation of individuals’ right against unreasonable search and seizure, and that access to online data like emails and cell phone geo-location should be protected the same as letters and phone calls.

Congress should update ECPA to protect Fourth Amendment online rights and to reflect dramatic changes in technology and the way consumers utilize the Internet today.  At the same time, any revision of ECPA should ensure that law enforcement has the necessary tools to continue counteracting illegal online activity.

Targeted Advertising

The advent of cloud-based email and application services has been funded almost entirely by advertisements tailored and targeted to consumers.  The collection of data about Internet users that generates such ads has come under attack by some in Congress and government agencies who have called for a “Do Not Track” list or other regulations.  Aside from the practical and technical difficulties of enacting such a policy, a one-size-fits-all government standard could impede the ability for companies to provide cloud services like email and word processing.

Instead of entrusting the government – arguably the largest violator of privacy rights – to set privacy regulations, individuals should be educated and empowered to protect their data and privacy with the myriad of tools already available in the free market.  This includes adjusting third-party cookie tracking in web browsers, installing specialized software, and adjusting privacy settings on frequently trafficked websites, amongst other options.