Facebook reportedly receives over 100 requests a week from law enforcement officers seeking information about its users. Amazon once received a request from a U.S. Attorney for purchasing histories for 24,000 of its users. Google battled a Department of Justice request for user search queries. Verizon gets thousands of these requests. And a 17-page Yahoo document outlining company surveillance capabilities recently leaked to the Net.
Against this background, the ACLU of Northern California (ALCU-NC) recently launched a “Know Your dotRights” campaign – an online privacy initiative dedicated to encouraging Internet users to protect their personal data. According to ACLU-NC, our laws need to catch up to technology. For example, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal law designed to protect digital privacy rights “provides questionable protection at best for Internet users” according to ACLU-NC. Worse, as the New York Times reports, many people don’t even know that their personal information and online behavior is being tracked and harvested. (The Times also recently continued the conversation here.)
While Congress reportedly considers legislation that would enhance privacy protections for all Internet users, a recent lawsuit filed by the civil liberties watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) brings the Internet privacy issue to a head.
The case began when EFF sent “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) requests to the CIA, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies. Several high profile federal investigations allegedly gathered social networking evidence, and EFF wanted the agencies to disclose all records:
“about federal guidelines on the use of social-networking websites (including but not limited to Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr and other online social media) for investigative (criminal or otherwise) or data gathering purposes created since January 2003.” (Compl., para. 19)
When the agencies did not respond within FOIA’s statutory time limit, EFF sued for an “order requiring immediate processing and release” of the records.
As regulatory and legal action continue to sculpt the privacy landscape, we’re betting online privacy will be a top 10 legal issue in 2010 and beyond, affecting the business models of brands, advertising agencies, and social media entrepreneurs everywhere. Stay with us for more insights as the laws in this fascinating area evolve.