Private Conversations Sent By Email Deserve the Same Protection as Telephone Conversations, ACLU Says

April 6, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying that the American people are rapidly losing control of their personal information, the American Civil Liberties Union told a House panel today that Congress must act to protect the privacy of email and other Internet communications.

“Legally, it is easier for the government to snoop through a couple’s private emails to one another than it is for the government to listen in on the very same conversations if they take place on the phone,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, a legislative counsel for the ACLU. “The distinction cannot be justified — electronic conversations deserve the same level of protection as our telephone calls.”

Nojeim testified today before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee investigating whether the Fourth Amendment and related laws are adequate protection for information sent over the Internet and stored with Internet service providers such as America Online.

The ACLU praised Representative Canady, (R-FL) for convening the hearing. The courts have not extended adequate protections to Internet communications and as a result Congress needs to step in with additional protections, Nojeim said in his testimony.

“Businesses and schools are scrambling to stay apace of rapidly evolving technologies such as the Internet,” Nojeim said. “So, too, must Congress jump in and ensure that our privacy laws are not made obsolete by advances in technology.”

Nojeim explained that current law allows the government to avoid complying with the strict standards that apply to telephone wiretaps by accessing emails, which the government can obtain with minimal oversight once they are stored by third parties such as Internet service providers.

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