CNet reports that “Google and an alliance of privacy groups have come to Yahoo’s aid by helping the Web portal fend off a broad request from the U.S. Department of Justice for e-mail messages.”
In a brief filed Tuesday afternoon, the coalition says a search warrant signed by a judge is necessary before the FBI or other police agencies can read the contents of Yahoo Mail messages — a position that puts those companies directly at odds with the Obama administration.
Yahoo has been quietly fighting prosecutors’ requests in front of a federal judge in Colorado, with many documents filed under seal. Tuesday’s brief from Google and the other groups aims to buttress Yahoo’s position by saying users who store their e-mail in the cloud enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy that is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
“Society expects and relies on the privacy of e-mail messages just as it relies on the privacy of the telephone system,” the friend-of-the-court brief says. “Indeed, the largest e-mail services are popular precisely because they offer users huge amounts of computer disk space in the Internet ‘cloud’ within which users can warehouse their e-mails for perpetual storage.”
The coalition also includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and TRUSTe. […]
“This case is about protecting the privacy rights of all Internet users,” a Google representative said in a statement provided to CNET on Tuesday. “E-mail stored in the cloud should have the same level of protection as the same information stored by a person at home.”
That is, in fact, the broader goal of the groups filing Tuesday’s brief. They’re also behind the new Digital Due Process Coalition, which wants police to be able to obtain private communications (and the location of Americans’ cell phones) only when armed with a search warrant.
Under a 1986 law written in the pre-Internet era, Internet users enjoy more privacy rights if they store data locally, a legal hiccup that these companies fear could slow the shift to cloud-based services unless it’s changed.