Spying with Subpoenas, Search Warrants - or Nothing at All

Article excerpt

Government surveillance of Internet users' data has increased significantly in recent years, due in large part to the law's inability to keep up with modern technology and a low level of judicial oversight of the monitoring activities. Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, for example, reveal that the number of court orders authorizing certain electronic surveillance techniques rose 60 percent from 2009 to 201 1. And in response to a congressional inquiry to cellphone carriers about their practices for sharing customers' mobile phone information with law enforcement agencies, the companies disclosed that they received more than a million requests for such records in 201 1.

In the past, it was mainly news media websites that create forums and invite comments that faced the challenge of supporting their readers' free speech and privacy rights in the lace of law enforcement investigations. But in today's increasingly digital society, many online sen ice providers likewise are trying to figure out what role they want to play in protecting their users' constitutional rights. Twitter's recent decision to comply with a court order to turn ewer user information to New Tibrk prosecutors or be charged with contempt, while still challenging the order in a state appellate court, demonstrates the difficulties the companies encounter in developing their policies and the industry's lack of uniform guidelines addressing the issue. …