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Lawmaker Backs Down On Cell Phone Privacy Bill
Just how private are your electronic communications- your text messages, phone calls, emails? In some cases, the government can have access to all of it without your permission or even your knowledge.
Laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction when it comes to electronic privacy. In some places, the police can ask for your phone and go through all of your private data without a warrant. In other area, a warrant or subpoena is needed for police access.
A bill before a US Senate committee is trying to address the lack of uniformity and set guidelines for law enforcement.
It doesn't take much to find out everything.
“We'll open up the body, and if it's in there we'll get it,” said local data recovery and computer forensics expert Will Ambruzs.
At Flashback Data, forensics experts chip away at your privacy.
“Your text messages, location coordinates, copies of your photos, your internet history, what are you browsing,” listed Ambruzs, “That data has to go somewhere on your phone or computer and we're the guys folks contact to find it.”
Flashback Data works with law enforcement agencies to recover electronic evidence from phones or computers in criminal cases. Flashback requires a paper trail, a warrant or court order, before they do any work.
“It all starts with the authority,” said Ambruzs. “The authority to, in effect, violate someone's privacy very deeply.”
But requirement a search warrant is not necessary to recover electronic data for every law enforcement agency. Depending on where you live, your phone could be fair game.
“We do need some uniformity,” said Jim Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project about current laws. “It’s a mess, everywhere, all the states are different and within the states they're different.”
Harrington is pushing for more online protections when it comes to computer surveillance and electronic privacy.
“Privacy is privacy is privacy and police shouldn't interfere with it unless they have a warrant,” said Harrington.
It's an issue the federal government hasn't addressed since the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, but one that affects nearly everyone with a phone or computer.
“It’s highly personal stuff,” said Ambruzs. “I think it's very intrusive to have third persons without your consent or even your knowledge, to alert you after the fact after they've essentially been through your underwear drawer, I think that’s highly invasive.”
The bill addressing electronic communications will go before a US Senate committee on Thursday.
An earlier draft of the bill had expanded law enforcement's right to your information, allowing searches without a warrant. That provision was met with a lot of opposition and was dropped from the bill.