Google leads fight to limit government access to email
by Eric Engleman
WASHINGTON — Google Inc., which says it gets about 1,400 requests a month from U.S. authorities for users' emails and documents, is organizing an effort to press for limits on government access to digital communications.
The company has been talking to advocacy groups and companies about joining a lobbying effort to change the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, said Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman. He declined to elaborate.
"Given the realities of how people live and where things are going in the digital world, it's an important time for government to act" to update the law, David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in an interview. "It's a bipartisan issue and I think the momentum is going to build because citizens are expecting this."
Google officials say changes in the law are needed to prevent law enforcement from obtaining certain emails and other content without search warrants, and to give documents stored on cloud services the same legal protections as paper documents stored in a desk drawer. Cloud services, which didn't exist when the privacy law was passed, let users store and process data on remote servers via the Internet.
Spending on public cloud services is expected to reach $100 billion globally by 2016, from $40 billion last year, according to technology research firm IDC.
Last year, the owner of the world's largest search engine helped lead an Internet protest movement that derailed anti- piracy legislation in both houses of Congress. It began drawing attention to the privacy law last week, disclosing that more than two-thirds of 8,438 requests for user data it received from U.S. authorities in the second half of last year took place without a search warrant.
Debating the law
The privacy law sets out how law enforcement can get access to emails and other forms of digital communication. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and one of law's original architects, said it's been made outdated by technology advances and expanded government surveillance powers.
Leahy's committee, over the objections of law enforcement groups, passed a proposal in November requiring government officials to get a search warrant to obtain emails and other communications regardless of their age.
That eliminated a provision in the law, written at a time email was rarely stored by service providers, allowing authorities to obtain messages more than 180 days old with only a subpoena.
Leahy attached the change to a measure backed by Netflix Inc. to allow online sharing of video-rental information. The language was stripped out before the Netflix bill passed both chambers of Congress in December and was signed by President Barack Obama.
The senator, in a Jan. 16 speech, said he'll reintroduce electronic-privacy legislation this year. He said he stayed on as judiciary committee chairman to continue that effort.
Groups representing federal, state and local law enforcement officers say Leahy's proposal could impede investigations.
"It changed the rules and operating procedures without conferring any advantages," said Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI Agents Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based group representing 12,000 current and former FBI special agents. "Don't just make our jobs more difficult."
Motyka said any move to increase the legal standard should be paired with measures to aid law enforcement, such as requiring companies to respond to warrants within a specified period of time, and making exceptions for cases of child abuse, violent crimes and terrorism.
The Justice Department provided "technical assistance" on Leahy's bill, including "examples of problems that would be created for the executive branch in order to comply with legislative mandates," Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, said in an email.
Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokeswoman, didn't respond to a phone call and email requesting comment.
Google is part of an existing coalition, called Digital Due Process, formed in 2010 to seek changes to the privacy law. The coalition cuts across political ideology, with members including the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax group led by Grover Norquist. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby, joined last month.
Other members include Facebook, Amazon.com and Microsoft.
"It's critical that we start to have the same rights in the online world that we do in the offline world," Chris Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel, said in an interview. A paper letter has more protection against government searches than an older email under current law, he said. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, has said Congress should look at the privacy law, while saying he hasn't committed to specific changes. He said he expects to hold a hearing on the law this year.
Goodlatte, who sponsored the Netflix bill, said his willingness to work on the privacy law helped convince Leahy to get the video-sharing measure passed and "not hold it hostage" to broader privacy changes.
Leahy and Goodlatte backed the anti-piracy bills in Congress that Google opposed and helped defeat last January. Google said the measures would lead to online censorship and chill innovation.
Google spent $16.5 million on lobbying last year, up from $9.7 million in 2011, according to Senate lobbying disclosures. Google's political action committee gave $9,500 to Goodlatte during the 2012 election.
The U.S. made the most requests for Google user information among governments in the second half of 2012, according to the company's transparency report released Jan. 23. Google is posting additional information for users today about what kinds of data it discloses to U.S. agencies from its Gmail, YouTube, Google Voice and Blogger services under ECPA legal processes.
While the law "seems to allow" the government to force service providers to turn over some digital content with a subpoena or court order, Google requires a search warrant before disclosing email text, private videos or blog posts, and voicemail messages, according to a company fact sheet.
Google will release information other than content, such as user registration data and Internet-protocol addresses, under subpoenas or court orders, the company said.
Downtown Kalamazoo businesses and individuals pledge $73,000 to fund community policing officer
by Emily Monacelli
Downtown Kalamazoo Inc. officials are working on a contract with city public safety officials to cover funding for the downtown community policing officer
thanks to contributions from Kalamazoo organizations and individuals.
Steve Deisler, president of DKI, on Monday told the Downtown Development Authority the organization has been able to raise $73,000 in private funding to keep the downtown community policing officer on the streets. If the contract becomes official, the city will likely pay the rest, Deisler said.
“We are going to get the same coverage as we've gotten in the past,” Deisler said Monday.
Deisler would not name the community partners who have pledged the funds. Downtown officials said last month $55,000 of the estimated $94,000 necessary to fund the community policing officer's salary and benefits for 2013 had been raised.
The DDA in October voted to ask the Kalamazoo City Commission to pay for the officer out of the city's general fund because the DDA could no longer afford to fund CPO Chris Hancox's position. The DDA had funded the position for six years.
The DDA made a second appeal in November to ask the city to match funds the DDA collected from individuals and businesses, but "due to the possibility of more fiscal challenges in these difficult times, supporting funds could not be allocated," said a statement issued last month.
Deisler said officials are trying to get funds pledged for next year, but the organization will not continue it next year, and said they have told city officials that.
“This is temporary, said Downtown Development Authority Chair Chris Shook. “It's a stop gap.”
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley said earlier this year the downtown community policing officer's value, more than anything else, is establishing a relationship with merchants and residents downtown.
Aiken community meeting to discuss public safety
by Bianca Cain Johnson
Only a few spots remain for Aiken's Safe Communities meeting Saturday.
The free session, planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will provide information to assist in fighting crime at a police and resident level. It is open to Aiken residents, neighborhood associations, businesses, churches and community service providers.
The event is part of the Safer Community Initiative. The meeting focuses on the community's role in the initiative. Public Safety will discuss how to make communities safer, organizing neighborhood associations and community watches, community policing models and the future of the Safer Community Initiative.
The day will conclude with a Community Cafe, which is modeled after the World Cafe methodology for holding large group dialogue. During the activity, each table will be assigned a topic of education, community safety or economic development, and will give a summary of its discussion to help in building ideas.
The meeting will be held at Smith Hazel Recreation Center, 400 Kershaw St. and will include lunch. To reserve a spot, call (803) 642-7780 by today.