Big Brother Watching
Americans' Email,
Computer Data

(AFP) -- Fast-evolving Internet and communications technology is outpacing privacy laws and leaving a treasure trove of personal data prey to government surveillance, a new report warned.
The survey by the non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) appeared as debate rages over a domestic wiretap program in the United States and government lawyers demand search records held by firms like Google.
Center for Democracy and Technology report
"The gap between law and technology is widening every day, and privacy is eroding," said Jim Dempsey, the CDT policy director who authored the report.
"What makes this even more troubling is that most users of these new technologies don't realize they are putting their privacy in jeopardy."
Modern consumers live in an age when web based e-mails pileup on services like Microsoft's Hotmail and Google's Gmail, and all kinds of files from personal photos to bank, medical and travel records are stored online.
Few computer users realise however, that web based e-mail is subject to much weaker protections than messages stored on home computers.
While the government needs a warrant, issued by a judge, to search someone's home computer, it can access a person's webmail account with only a subpoena, issued without judicial review.
In another example, the ubiquitous cellphone makes communication on the move easy -- but it has a downside, in that it can be used theoretically by government agencies to pinpoint an individual's location.
There are no existing laws laying out explicit standards for government location tracking, so official use of such technology is only controlled by an inadequate patchwork of laws and precedents, the report said.
Few people realise that privacy laws drafted before, or in the early days of the technological revolution, do not adequately cover new vaults of online data, the report warns.
"The government complains that new technology makes its job more difficult, but the fact is that digital technology has vastly augmented the government's powers," the report cautions.
"More information is more readily available to government investigators than ever before," the report said.
And it is not just the pace of change that raises new privacy questions, the report added, citing new government powers enshrined in the Patriot Act, designed to combat terrorism which provide wider government powers.
Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse



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