Electronic Communications Privacy Act: Until It Changes, Feds Can Read Your Emails and Cloud Files Without a Warrant

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act was passed almost 30 years ago.  It's still in effect today, and because the law (18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq.) has not been revamped to keep up with technological advances, it allows the government to snoop into all sorts of online stuff that you may assume is your private information.

The Problem: Digital Information Can Be Accessed by Police Without a Search Warrant.

Lots of things are not considered private under this privacy law - things that you may assume are protected from governmental snooping unless they get a search warrant from a judge.  Like what? Things like your files stored in Dropbox; your six-month old (or older) emails; or any chats or comments that are over 180 days old are fair game for law enforcement to access, read, and store.


They don't need a search warrant for stored digital information because of the ECPA.  Scary stuff, right?


The Solution:  Change the Law and Bring It into the 21st Century.

Federal law needs to be changed to close this privacy loophole so your online stuff (like Facebook comments or online chats) isn't exposed in ways that you may not realize is open to government eyes and this law is updated to reflect the state of today's online communications (and online storage).  It's merely a matter of updating the law to keep up with today's digital communications.

Last week, a congressman from Arizona (Representative Matt Salmon) introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2015, explaining in his press release:

“The Founding Fathers learned first-hand the cost of unchecked power.  That experience, gained the hard way, offered them critical insights into how a government for and by the people ought to conduct itself.
“The Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of security from unreasonable searches of our ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects’ does not disappear because we’ve invented new ways to communicate.  Now more than ever it’s important to make sure government doesn’t trample our rights by using those same innovations to see and record every email, instant message, tweet, post, and comment we write.
"The message is simple: Get a warrant.  The same procedures law enforcement uses to investigate dangerous criminals and prevent acts of terrorism should apply to people’s digital lives—as should the same protections.”

There was also proposed Congressionsal legislation last fall that sought to update the ECPA and extend search warrant protections, etc., to digital information.  See, "Senators unveil new bill to protect emails" by Julian Hattem for The Hill.

Hopefully, the 114th Congress will be more successful here than the 113th ....

More info on the ECPA and the proposed 2015 Amendment:

1.  Full text of this bill.

2.  Follow and track the proposed amendment as it proceeds through Congress as H.R. 283.

3.  Background information provided by the ACLU on its resources page covering the ECPA.


Ebola: What about Thomas Duncan's Fiancee?

Here's what I don't get, Dear Reader.  It was just a couple of months ago that a couple planned on reuniting in Dallas, Texas, where they would watch their son graduate from college and where they would marry.

The man traveled to Dallas from West Africa and for those first four days after his arrival, things must have been very exciting and joyful.  Family was reunited. Plans for the future were being made.

You know there was lots of hugs and kisses.  Lots of food and drink.  People coming over to visit.  Music. Laughter.

Of course, we know that at some point during those first four days, Thomas Duncan starting feeling ill.  So much so, that his family took him to the Emergency Room at Texas Presbyterian Hospital for help.

We know that he was treated there and sent back home, where he spent another four days before returning to the hospital.  At that point, on September 28, he was admitted and soon thereafter, we all knew who Mr. Duncan was and that he had been diagnosed with Ebola.

And the news juggernaut began....

But here's my question.  What about his Thomas Duncan's fiancee?  

You can't tell me that this woman wasn't right there by the side of her man, taking care of him until he was taken from her and quarantined.  You love this man, you're going to marry him, he's just traveled halfway around the world to begin a New Life with you, and he's sick with what looks like the flu?

I'm thinking she was nursing him 24/7.  Without a Hazmat suit.

I'm envisioning her dealing with vomit and mucus and all that nasty stuff that comes with someone being sick. I'm picturing her collecting the used tissues from around the bed; I'm thinking about her kissing his cheek while he slept.  (She has confirmed to the media that the couple was intimate before he started feeling bad, too.)

After all, her job is being a nursing assistant at a nursing home.  Sure, she was taking care of him.

And she never got sick.  LOUISE TROH NEVER GOT SICK. 

Shouldn't this be a message of hope for all of us?  Shouldn't she be an example to all of us that being exposed to the Ebola virus does not guarantee infection?  

Last I heard, she was being denied a place to rent by people still terrified of catching Ebola.  Wow.

My sincerest condolences to this woman.  I hope she writes a book.  I'll read it.


Electric Power Grid Threats: I'm Happy San Antonio Police Chief McManus is Taking that CPS Energy Job

Just last week, our city's outstanding police chief announced that he was leaving the job.  William McManus will transition out of his role as San Antonio Police Chief over the remainder of 2014, giving the City of San Antonio about six months to get his replacement ready to go.

Why Would the Police Chief go to Work for the Electric Company?

Now, this isn't welcomed news to lots of us here in the Alamo City.  Chief McManus has been here for eight years now, and he's done a great job.

Why now?  Well, at first I thought since he is 62 and has been in law enforcement for four decades, he thought it was time to retire.  San Antonio is a great place to retire.  Sixty-two is a nice age for it.

But nope.  McManus isn't retiring:  he is moving into the private sector where he will be the "Senior Director of Security for CPS Energy," whatever that means.

Gave me pause:  Why would the utility company need someone at McManus' skill level?  

Well, in today's news I got the answer, I think.

And, boy howdy, it's not good.

Vulnerability of Electrical Power Structure is Target of Terrorists

Seems that Al Qaeda is plotting to attack the United States in more creative ways than blowing things up. There's news today of "cyber attacks" against specific targets, like places that supply electricity by these terrorists; news reports are that al Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri can be heard in a video hinting that the new terror targets are American infrastructure, which would include banks, financial systems, as well as electrical power grids.

Before you think, what a paranoid goof I must be -- consider this:

1.  The Wall Street Journal reported about the dangers of "grid terror attacks" earlier this month, with their story including descriptions of an actual attack on a substation in San Jose, California.  The story also delves into a recommendation by the Congressional Research Service to Congress that the federal government investigate and decide if individual power companies across the country have sufficient internal security protections or if the federal government needs to step into things and address increasing protections for our nation's electrical resources.

2.  The federal government is already putting pressure on independent utility companies to boost their security.   The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is seeking Congressional approval of its expanded agency power to orchestrate these increased protections, where the executive branch could demand that electric utility companies do specific things to protect their computer systems, and more.

Texas Border Mess - Ripe Opportunity to Enter Texas and San Antonio is a Great Target

We're all reading about the Texas - Mexico border mess, and if you think that all these people crossing into South Texas are toddlers and small children then you're an idiot.  There are MS-13 gang members as well as other gangsters sitting there among those being housed by Texas Border Patrol and being processed over to I.C.E.

Then there's that silent group, the people coming into the State of Texas that aren't getting caught by the authorities.  No one's talking as much in the media about this other migration -- who knows the head count per day for these folk.

There are people sneaking across the Rio Grande and into Texas from all over the world.  Nations that are enemies to our country have been well represented in this exodus.

This has been going on for years and most of us here in South Texas have lots of stories about it.  Family and friends finding prayer rugs during hunting trips down by Laredo - that's a comforting thought, isn't it?

Thing is:  San Antonio sure looks like a sweet spot for some evildoing.  Consider this:

  • We've got big operations of both the CIA  and the NSA  here in town.  
  • We've got BAMC where Sgt. Bergdahl was decompressed within minutes of downtown and Alamo Square. 
  • There's the historic Fort Sam Houston Army Post along with Randolph Air Force Base.  Lots of military might calls San Antonio home.    
  • And, of course, our city sits at the juncture of two major interstates:  U.S.35 (connecting the United States southern and northern borders) and I.H.10 (connecting our east and west coasts).  

If I were a wrongdoer, I sure would find San Antonio a tempting target.  Which means I am very, very happy that Police Chief McManus is going to be the man in charge of protecting our City Public Service facilities.

Of course, maybe I just read too many Nelson DeMille novels.  Although one of his thrillers had a Boeing 777 with all its passengers and crew mysteriously perish long before that Malaysian airliner disappeared without at trace....

Just what I'm pondering this week.


Richard M. Nixon Grand Jury Testimony Transcript from July 1975 - Read It Here

Public domain discoveries on the Internet never fail to amaze me - there's so much out there!  Project Gutenberg alone could keep you staring at a screen for days, but I digress.  Today, as I was surfing around for a public domain image, I stumbled upon something fascinating.

Well, I find it fascinating, at least.

It's the complete transcription of the Grand Jury testimony given by President Richard M. Nixon back in the summer of 1975 -- along with notes from those questioning him and other amazing stuff.  Okay, geeky-amazing.  Granted.

I remember my mother being very (VERY) involved in all the Watergate stuff back as it was happening, she would watch the televised proceedings for hours at a time -- and I vaguely remember bits and pieces of things.  Leon Jaworski was from Houston; John Dean testifying with his young, blond wife at his side.  The Nixon wave as he got on the helicopter.  And, of course, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men. (Sigh.  I think I saw that movie five times during the first two months it was in the theatre.)

Richard Nixon Testified?  I Did Not Know That.

However, I don't remember Nixon ever giving testimony - so finding this deposition transcript was a real find for me.  I did not know this existed -- wow.

The testimony was taken in San Clemente, California, almost a year after Nixon had resigned.  (Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974; the deposition began on June 23, 1975 as part of District of Columbia grand jury proceedings which began in January 1974 (see page 4 of the transcript).)

Richard Nixon's 1975 Deposition Transcript Can Be Read Online 

Consider the "areas of inquiry" delineated for that first day of testimony (pp. 5-6):
1. The circumstances surrounding the 18 and a half minute gap in the tape of the meeting between you and Haldeman on June 20, 1972. 
2. Aspects of alleged receipt of large amounts of cash by Charles Rebozo or Rose Mary Woods on your behalf, and financial transactions or aspects thereof between Hr. Rebozo and you. 
3. Attempts to prevent the disclosure of the existence of the National Security Council wire tap program through removal of the records from the FBI, matters dealing with threats to reveal the existence of such records, and the testimony of L. Patrick Gray at his confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate upon his nomination to be permanent Director of the FBI. 
4. Any relationship between campaign contributions and the consideration of ambassadorships for five persons: Ruth Farkas, J. Fife Symington, Jr., Vincent deRoulet, Cornelius V. Whitney and Kingdon Gould, Jr., and 
5. The obtaining and release of information by the White House concerning Lawrence O'Brien through use of the Internal Revenue Service.
Why Read Nixon's Testimony Now?

For one thing, it's very entertaining from a lawyer point of view - or maybe that subset of lawyers that have taken and defended many, many depositions.  For example, I chuckled at the top of page 26 when Nixon has just testified about one memo and how maybe it came across his desk and next, there's the introduction of another exhibit with the question, do you see this notation "... the president has seen your memo ...."  It's that "are you lying then or are you lying now" sort of exchange that gets the questioning lawyer all pumped up and the defending lawyer ready to strangle his client.

For another, it's history.  Plus, it's a great example of our political system in action -- this is the former President, of all people, who is being grilled here.  Maybe you'll find your own reasons....

Click on the image to go to read the first file containing his testimony.  There are several others, as well as other files with other stuff, i the complete Nixon Grand Jury Records stored online by the GPO.