112th Congress Finished Its Term By Taking Away More of Your Privacy, In The Worst Possible Way
Thursday, January 10, 2013
The 113th Congress was sworn into office last week and will start regular business later this month. They’ll have a huge, and perhaps unprecedented, slate of Internet-related legislation in the next year, including potentially taking up a dangerous new Internet surveillance bill—which we will detail in the coming days and weeks.
But before they do, they should take a lesson from the 112th Congress on how not to conduct business. In their final official week of existence—and the cover of holidays—the 112th Congress used underhanded and undemocratic tactics to pass two bills that have terrible effects on your online privacy.
Back in November, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed important reform to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the main privacy law governing email. The law, which was written in 1986 before the world wide web even existed, allows all sorts of things that make no sense today, such as letting the government get emails over 180 days old without a warrant.
But the bill came with a caveat: to get it out of committee, the Senators attached a Netflix-supported amendment which would weaken the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), that would make “frictionless” sharing of videos on social networks easier. EFF stated our opposition to such a compromise, and the connection of the two meant that the weakened video privacy part—passed in 1988 with strong bipartisan support after Robert Bork’s video rental records were publicized in his bid to be a Supreme Court Justice—got little attention. Ultimately, though, getting such important protection for email remained an unequivocally good thing.