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Google has a targeted advertisement feature that scans your Gmail messages looking for keywords to provide relevant content in the ads. Say you send an email about a movie coming out on Friday: They will offer an ad for a ticket service like Fandango. Or you talk about wanting to send flowers: Suddenly there's an FTP link with some suggestions.
This had privacy advocates up in arms over potential abuses, like selling your private information.
Now the Government has one-upped the private sector company with a rewrite that would let the Feds into your inbox without a warrant. From C|Net:
A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans' e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law, CNET has learned.
Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns, according to three individuals who have been negotiating with Leahy's staff over the changes. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans' e-mail, is scheduled for next week.
Leahy's rewritten bill would allow more than 22 agencies -- including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission -- to access Americans' e-mail, Google Docs files, Facebook wall posts, and Twitter direct messages without a search warrant. It also would give the FBI and Homeland Security more authority, in some circumstances, to gain full access to Internet accounts without notifying either the owner or a judge.
CNET obtained a draft of the proposed amendments from one of the people involved in the negotiations with Leahy; it's embedded at the end of this post. The document describes the changes as "Amendments intended to be proposed by Mr. Leahy."
It's an abrupt departure from Leahy's earlier approach, which required police to obtain a search warrant backed by probable cause before they could read the contents of e-mail or other communications. The Vermont Democrat boasted last year that his bill "provides enhanced privacy protections for American consumers by... requiring that the government obtain a search warrant."
This isn't an unprecedented action for Patrick Leahy who introduced legislation last year that would have extended the sun-setting Patriot Act.
Modern law enforcement has trouble dealing with the intricacies of information spread on the Internet. Items in public forums has been tossed because there was no direct link to the person who is accused of posting the information. The fourth amendment was drafted at a time when the founders had only to think of the ramifications of physical infringements. Digging through the trash is a thing of the past in the electronic era.
Still, these sorts of overreaches are obvious and need definition. Essentially, if it needs a password, key, or anything special to access the information, you need a judge to permit you access. If it's posted in a public forum and its provenance can be ascertained, then have at it.