New Internet Privacy Laws Introduced that Protect Users and Businesses

Many people who use the internet take their rights on the web for granted. I know I do. It’s so easy to think the anonymity and massiveness of the net essentially secure your safety and privacy, regardless if you’re doing something wrong or not. The majority of us use the net for legal reasons, but unbeknownst to us, the privacy laws regarding our communications, mobile devices, and our apps are well behind-the-times. Finally, things are looking up for everyday internet users and businesses that operate online.

What the New Laws Do

Here’s some information I doubt you knew, and it might make you a little angry too. I know I was shocked when I found out. According to NBCNews, all law enforcement needs to do is prove “reasonable grounds that the information gleaned” from your email accounts “could be useful.” No warrant, no normal process for search and seizure—just one simple, “easily cleared” barrier for law enforcement to gain access to all of your emails. Why? Because the old Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 is outdated, plain and simple.

Senator Patrick Leahy is supporting a bill that as NBCNews reports, “would finally require law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant to rifle through archived emails.” If this bill is passed, it means all of our communications are better protected, whether you use business email, personal email, or email stored entirely in the cloud. There will no longer be a difference between remote and locally stored email in they eyes of the law. All types of email will gain the protections we’re used to having in our physical world.

A Law to Protect the Mobile You

The second privacy law that is on the table for a vote concerns those lovely gadgets we can’t get enough of: our smartphones. This law also affects some of the platforms that we, as individuals and as businesses, use on a daily basis to communicate with our customers such as Facebook, Google+, and any apps a company or individual might put out or use to reach customers.

So what happens with this second law? Well According to Joe Hindy at the Android Authority blog, “To put it simply, all mobile applications would have to ask you for permission to [access] your data before they take it.” Yep, if you didn’t know by now, many apps and social media sites are constantly taking personal and location information, and they never even ask if they can.

The law comes with big penalties for violators because the $1000 to $3000 fines are, as Joe writes again, “levied per infraction.” That could mean hefty fines if your user-base is in the hundreds of thousands and your app automatically takes information about its users!

On the heels of ACTA, CISPA, and SOPA: This is Good News

The past year or so we saw some terrible laws coming out of Congress and the Senate. One of them sparked one of the most motivated and powerful protest movements the internet has seen. The resistance to SOPA caused opponents to black out their sites to raise awareness. Opponents utilized every form of social media from Twitter to Facebook to spread awareness. Even big players like Google helped participate in the e-civil disobedience campaign that rocked the web and made headlines almost every day.

After the actions of this movement, SOPA lost all of its support. Not even the President was behind it. In fact, most politicians are now opposed to over-arching and freedom-suppressing bills like ACTA, CISPA, and SOPA. With those actions, the people and businesses of the web showed that we are capable of operating and doing business in a free web environment. The internet is a great place to exchange ideas and do commerce, but legislating it in ways that suppress or limit our freedoms is not a good idea.

For many privacy advocates, this is a big step forward. I personally hope these bills pass. We’re currently operating on extremely outdated laws, and even if you do nothing wrong online, ensuring we have the protections we have in the physical world is important. Our lives and our businesses are increasingly moving online, and we need to make sure we are protecting them with as much attention as we pay to protecting our lives offline. The internet is vital for business, free speech, and communication, but protecting our freedom and privacy on the web comes first.

Do you support or oppose the bills that are being proposed? You should let your representative know (after you respond here, of course)!

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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