October 27, 2011
Today marked the end of around ten days of events surrounding the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Protect Action, though by no means is it the end of our reform efforts. It was a week full of press conferences, panels, and even a party, all of which served to highlight the problems in the law and the need for reform. Today’s panel continued that trend, bringing together a group of people that many may have thought opposed to the proposals to reform ECPA, but who clearly see the need for reform. As if to emphasize that need, Google this week released its latest set of data on the requests for information that it receives from governments around the world. The sharp increase in requests during this period is just one example of the importance of reform.
Today’s panel consisted of William H. Taft IV, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Legal Advisor at the State Department, the Honorable James Robertson, a retired DC District Court Judge and Judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Honorable Bob Barr, former US Attorney and former Member of Congress, and Gregory Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
All of them, from different angles and points of view, reiterated the importance of the reforms called for by the Digital Due Process Coalition. Mr. Barr emphasized that having strong warrant requirements actually helps law enforcement by forcing them to focus their investigations early, when they apply for the warrant, rather than just before trial. Judge Robertson added that in reality, warrant applications are almost never turned down, because the need to assemble the application acts as a check on the government. He went on to say that the requirements are not burdensome, but that they are an important regulation over law enforcement. The panel was an excellent demonstration of the fact that this issue is non-partisan, and that many of the reasons for opposition put forward by the Department of Justice are knee-jerk reactions that don’t hold water.
The other cap to this week of events was the coincidental release of Google Transparency’s latest set of six-month data regarding government demands for user information. Google announced that in the last six months alone, federal, state, and local law enforcement had made 5,950 separate requests, seeking information on 11,057 individual users (some requests implicate the information of multiple users). That represents an average of over 33 requests per day, just from the United States, and is a 22% increase over the previous six-month period. The government is clearly taking advantage of the lower standards in the current law, pointing to the need for these reforms.