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How not to update our electronic privacy laws

Judging by reports from courtside, the Department of Justice did itself no favors at a House Judiciary Committee hearing held Tuesday morning to discuss how to update the venerable-to-the-point-of-senile Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

ECPA was originally enacted into law in 1986, when Mark Zuckerberg was 1 year old. Just about everybody agrees -- law enforcement, Congress, the White House, civil libertarians, tech companies -- that the law needs to catch up with contemporary practice. But the exact details of said updating? That's where it gets tricky.

In prepared testimony Assistant Attorney General Elana Tyrangiel acknowledged that there were cases in which the government should be required to get a warrant before accessing the content of, for example, stored emails. But at the same time she pushed for wide exceptions to that rule for civil litigators, opening up the possibility that if the law were updated per the DoJ's wishes, regulatory authorities and civil litigators would be able to gain more access than ever to your emails, Twitter direct messages, and Facebook communications without ever having to go before a judge. (Zach Whittaker has a nice rundown of the DoJ's overreaching in ZDNET.)

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