Our phone records and our email metadata convey a lot of information. It’s because of this that the Supreme Court has just ruled unanimously that the police need a warrant to search your phone when making an arrest. But, thanks to the third-party doctrine, the same rule doesn’t yet straightforwardly apply when the police request your information from your phone company, from Dropbox, or from Google.
A quick canter through my own Google records, for example, would disclose communications with political radicals, pirates, hackers, criminal suspects and foreigners of all kinds (hey guys! love you all!). The fact that Gmail holds my contact lists rather than my writing them down with a quill pen in a vellum notebook, should not mean that law enforcement should be able to access them without getting a warrant. Seriously, I’ll buy the vellum if you make me, but have you seen how much that stuff costs? It’s like 35 bucks a sheet. Plus, it would take around ten years for the monastic scriptorium to write them all out.
So there’s a bill – we’ve reported on it before – which would solve this problem, and apply ordinary warrant protections to your phone records and electronic records held by neutral third parties. It’s a good bill, and the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee just reported it out favorably. The legislative session ends at the end of July, so if this bill is to pass, we need a lot of calls to go out in the next couple of weeks. The ACLU of Massachusetts has sent out an appeal for people to call their legislators:
Massachusetts residents: Take action now! Call your state senator and Senate president Therese Murray. Tell them you want your privacy, and to quickly pass the Electronic Privacy Act! Like the Supreme Court said, if police want to spy on us, they should get a warrant!
This is the twenty-first century, not the sixteenth century, and it’s way past time for our communications to be protected, whatever form they are written in. So get out there and make the call!