It’s no secret: The more you do online, the more information you leave behind. And nowadays, since most Americans do quite a bit on the Internet—from social networking and e-mailing to booking flights and banking—we’re all leaving digital footprints that allow our most personal information to be accessed by strangers.
That’s why a coalition of privacy advocates and businesses is urging Congress to update electronic privacy laws, many of which were written before the Internet even existed. The movement is called dotRights, a catchy term that speaks to developing a clear national standard for protecting an individual’s personal electronic information.
“The Founding Fathers recognized that citizens in a democracy need privacy for their ‘persons, papers, and effects,’” the ACLU said in a statement given to a Judiciary subcommittee. “That remains as true as ever. But our privacy laws have not kept up as technology has changed the way we hold information.” While opponents of more stringent privacy laws cite access to electronic information as a way to guard against national security threats, privacy advocates say we should limit the government’s power to tap into civilian lives. Following 9/11, unprecedented power was given to the federal government when the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), signed into law in 1986, was weakened by provisions in the Patriot Act (which grants the government a nearly limitless right to examine your affairs if it feels you might threaten national security.)
The Obama administration recently proposed the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which provides extra protections on top of the current ECPA laws. If enacted, the privacy bill of rights would give Internet users the right, among other things, to control what data is collected, and how it is used and shared. Studies have shown that African-Americans tend to be more concerned about Internet privacy issues than Whites.