Administration Shoehorns Modern Problems into Antiquated Laws

The federal government is now routinely using laws passed before the invention of the fax machine to control dynamic information systems like cloud computing and broadband access. These efforts to regulate and police the innovation economy will loosen constitutional privacy protections and chill technological innovation.

For example, relying on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, the Department of Justice has recently sought to search Microsoft customers’ e-mails. Microsoft has pushed back, alleging that the Justice Department’s orders violate its customers’ privacy and infringe on its right to free speech. Many of these demands prohibit Microsoft from informing customers that their information is being investigated.

Most laws governing government searches were written before the widespread use of digital communications. At that time, if the government wanted to execute a search warrant to look through one’s files, notice was necessary since a search would require entering a home or office to access documents. Now that many Internet users store their information in the cloud, rather than locally on their computers, the government can bypass notification of the customer by directly contacting providers such as Microsoft. Therefore, simply because the location of information has changed, users now experience different legal protections. Microsoft argues this is unconstitutional because Fourth Amendment protections on the reasonableness of searches should not discriminate based on how a citizen stores his or her information.

The privacy and free speech implications of the government’s actions have significant consequences for the greater business community and the innovation economy. When the government treats those who store their information at home differently than those who use the cloud, individuals are less inclined to use this potentially transformative new technology to protect their privacy. When individuals forgo cloud-computing services, innovative manufacturers will lose customers.

The National Association of Manufacturers will continue its fight to uphold proper constitutional protections and promote balanced and reasonable resolution through the courts.

Patrick Forrest

Patrick Forrest

Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at National Association of Manufacturers
Patrick Forrest is the vice president and deputy general counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). As part of the Manufacturers' Center for Legal Action, Forrest works to strengthen the NAM's ability to promote manufacturing policy objectives through litigation. Mr. Forrest's background includes legal, policy and government relations experience on a wide range of issues.
Patrick Forrest

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