Coalition urges updates to digital privacy laws

Privacy groups and a few tech companies today launched a wide-ranging effort to update digital communications privacy laws.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Democracy & Technology, along with Google, Microsoft and AT&T, have sent a revised list of principles to Capitol Hill and federal agencies regarding how law enforcement can access personal communications stored online. Full details can be found here.

The groups want to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which they say no longer reflects how people use technology. The law, which was passed in 1986, is outdated, they say, and needs an overhaul to better protect consumers who rely on email, mobile communications and other cloud-based communications tools.

Here are the four principles the groups are promoting:

--Better protect the privacy of communications and documents you store in the cloud
--Better protect you against secret tracking of your location through your cell phone or any other mobile device
--Better protect you against secret monitoring of when and with you communicate over the telephone or Internet
--Better protect innocent Americans against government fishing expeditions through masses of communications data unrelated to a criminal suspect.

Essentially, the groups say all private communications content stored with communications providers should be treated by law enforcement just as if it was stored on a laptop or printed out and stored in a file cabinet.

The groups say they've talked with the White House, Justice Department and FBI.

On a conference call with reporters, the groups said they do not expect anything to be passed in Congress this year, although Sen. Patrick Leahy has indicated he will hold hearings on the issue.