Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ill Communications

If there's one thing that's become blindingly obvious over the last week or so, it's how utterly bereft of purpose much of our national media machine is.

Sure, we've been following the embarrassing, tawdry, and effectively pointless "scandal" of the now-former head of the CIA, David Petraeus. What we know about the Petraeus incident so far is sad, and personally embarrassing to most of the primary actors in this real-life tragedy. Still, after the FBI spent months investigating parts of this case, and apparently gathered piles and piles of data what they found was salacious and sad - but not illegal.

What most of those in the major media outlets - who still have their hype generators on full-blast, after months of doing so during campaign season - haven't yet acknowledged is that there just doesn't appear to be any "there" there in this nontroversy. At least there's nothing important where most in the media are pointing.

The fact that over 20,000 pages of e-mails were exchanged by parties involved in the Petraeus scandal, and that the whole Petraeus affair was discovered by the FBI using surveillance powers in an ethically questionable, if not questionably legal manner? That's where the real story is.

It's well known that more and more companies are tracking what each of us do online, in an attempt to sell that information to advertisers who'd like a more accurate target for their ad dollars. Even games on your smartphone are collecting GPS data about where you are, and at what time of day.

That's because there are few if any serious and significant laws protecting the privacy of Americans online. We've known that fact for many years. The ECPA - the Electronic Communications Privacy Act  — was passed in 1986, long before the modern internet came into being, and has yet to be updated.

Like so many of our nation's infrastructure problems over the last 30 years, the legal infrastructure problem of protecting the privacy of Americans has been left to rot.

Until now.

While we're fairly certain the ECPA 2.0 and Global Free Internet Act won't be passed in this lame duck session of Congress, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California has made it a key goal of hers to get both bills passed in the 113th Congress.

As Lofgren explained in a recent TechCrunch article, the ECPA 2.0 bill modernizes our current U.S. electronic privacy laws to protect Americans from government intrusion. The new law would apply Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure to our online digital property much as it does our physical property now.

The second bill would protect Americans from corporate intrusion and international collusion that might suddenly put the internet out of the reach of everyday people. In other words, it would help keep the Internet free and accessible for everyone.

We know - these kinds of legislative battles aren't nearly as sexy as twins from Tampa sending sexy e-mails to top government and military officials while being involved in love triangles. The legislative battles, however, are exactly what the real responsibilities of our government should be - and where our focus should be too.

The long arm of the law can indeed get too long for its own good. It's up to "We the people" to keep those law enforcement officials at a proper arms' length.

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