US Tech Coalition Calls for New Online Privacy Law

Changes urged to US privacy law
By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

US technology firms and privacy groups have called for an overhaul of privacy laws, saying the government has too much access to private online data.

Google, eBay and others have launched the Digital Due Process coalition, seeking to update the 1986 privacy act, passed before internet usage exploded.

It calls for warrants to be issued before e-mails and texts are handed over to law enforcement agencies.

It seeks more protection of data stored online and mobile tracking information.

Outdated law

The coalition is looking to re-write the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 that governs what kinds of private digital information the government has access to and how they may obtain it.

“It is not surprising that a law written in 1986 didn’t foresee the privacy protections we need some 25 years later,” Richard Salgado, Google’s senior counsel for law enforcement and information security told BBC News.

The coalition – which includes over 30 members drawn from the worlds of industry, privacy and academia – said the ECPA is “a patchwork of confusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts”.

For example, law enforcement agencies can get access to some email information, instant messages, and other data stored online through simple subpoenas, not court-ordered warrants.

The coalition has recommended that a warrant be required before internet providers must hand over the online information – just as a warrant is required for a physical search of a suspect’s computer or filing cabinets.

It wants similar protection before mobile carriers turn over tracking information about customers.

It also want courts to ensure any real-time information like texts and instant messages are relevant to an investigation.

“The law needs to be clear that the same standard applies to email and documents stored with a service provider, while at the same time be flexible enough to meet law enforcement needs,” said Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology.


Members of the coalition said that had had discussions with the White House, the FBI and the justice and commerce departments.

They acknowledged that law enforcement agencies were likely to resist any change and a long debate was almost certain before Congress would act.

“We are not expecting that these will be enacted this year, but it’s time to begin the dialogue,” the CDT’s Mr Dempsey told reporters.

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he planned to hold hearings on “much-needed updates” to the US privacy act.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/03/31 04:58:53 GMT


Silicon Valley Man Infamous to Chinese Censors Comes Forward

Silicon Valley man infamous to Chinese censors comes forward

By Mike Swift
Posted: 03/26/2010 07:31:03 PM PDT
Updated: 03/29/2010 03:43:05 AM PDT

To Chinese Internet censors, he’s infamous. To the rest of the world, he’s unknown.

As he clicked through the Web in a Silicon Valley coffee shop Thursday, you’d never guess that a half-million people in China, Iran and other countries depend on his software to evade Internet blocking and government surveillance, that an estimated 50,000 government software engineers in China are trying to stop him and others; and that a congressional panel debated not only how to help mighty Google in its confrontation with Chinese censorship this week, but also the work of this software engineer.

He’s testified before a congressional panel — anonymously — and when he was interviewed on national television, he was shot from behind and his voice disguised. For fear of the Chinese government, the soft-spoken Silicon Valley software consultant has kept his identity concealed. Until now.

“I realized that if you’re scared,” Alan Huang told the Mercury News in an exclusive interview, “the government can take advantage of that.”

Huang’s local company, UltraReach Internet, is among a group of companies that make up the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. Through the consortium’s simple software, often downloaded through an e-mail, a person can step outside whatever blocking or surveillance their country imposes and freely access anyplace on the Web.

A follower of the government-banned spiritual group Falun Gong, Huang helped develop the technology in 2002 to help members of that movement communicate. But he soon realized that access to unfiltered information, free of government surveillance, was a fundamental need, not tied to any single group or country. Huang was active in the democracy movement in China in 1989 before moving to the Bay Area in 1992.

While the largest share of the consortium’s traffic still comes from China, the service is seeing a surge from Iran — where the government cracked down last year on democracy activists using YouTube, Facebook and other social networking tools to communicate — and from Vietnam. The consortium also gets many users from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries — including the United States.

“If you don’t have privacy and security, you don’t have freedom,” Huang said.

Huang is cheering Google’s step this week of directing its Chinese search traffic to an unfiltered search service based in Hong Kong. He had, however, already decided that he no longer wanted to remain anonymous when a reporter tracked him down this week, saying the consortium’s circumvention software represents “the right side of technology, the right side of history.”

The consortium is one of many services that have become increasingly important tools for people within China to circumvent the “Great Firewall” over the past five years, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the UC Berkeley and founder of the China Digital Times. He says the demand will only become greater.

“We haven’t even seen the full retaliation from the Chinese government” to Google’s move to stop censoring its Chinese search, Xiao said. “If Google is forced to withdraw from China, it will make this an even bigger market.”

The global attention Google generated when it stopped censoring search in China could also help the consortium make its services available to more people in all 180 countries it serves. On Wednesday, at a hearing in Washington before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about Google, a debate over additional federal resources for the consortium and others offering circumvention technology became a central issue.

Mark Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and now of Freedom House, a human rights group, blasted the U.S. State Department for not distributing $30 million in already appropriated money to help the consortium buy more computer servers and hire paid staff. In January, a group of senators, led by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that the money be released.

“It’s clear from talking to my friends, both in the State Department and the White House, that one of the concerns that has led to this (delay) is concern about the Chinese reaction,” Palmer told the group of senators and House members on the commission. The State Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Palmer told the congressional panel that if anti-censorship technology like the consortium’s could open up enough holes in the “Great Firewall” for enough people, the cyber-gymnastics Google did this week by moving its Chinese search to Hong Kong would be unnecessary, and people could go directly to Google’s main search engine. “Google’s in a fight and a martyred defeat will not help the cause,” he said.

The consortium provides free encryption software that also allows Internet users to switch IP addresses multiple times a second on a group of dedicated proxy servers scattered around the world, frustrating government blocking or surveillance in any country.

While it is a powerful technology because it is cheap compared with the expensive surveillance and blocking that the Chinese government does, the consortium is a shoestring operation, Huang says. After his daytime job as a software consultant, he works late into the night many evenings for the consortium, and spends his own money on hardware and services. Staffing is all volunteer. The consortium, which also includes Dynamic Internet Technology in North Carolina, has received government funding through the International Broadcasting Bureau, which funds ventures such as Voice of America.

Huang has become a U.S. citizen. But he says there are still reasons to fear the reach of the Chinese government, even here in the Bay Area, and he asked that where he lives and other personal details be kept private. While he applauded the step Google took this week, Huang said that he could not ignore that the company had agreed to Chinese censorship rules for four years.

“To me, I feel it’s kind of late,” he said, but added that he hoped the U.S. government would be tougher with China and that other companies would follow Google’s lead. “Microsoft should do the same thing; Yahoo should do the same thing; Cisco should do the same thing.”

Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648. Follow him at

Google to China: Your Move

Google to China: Your move

Posted by John Murrell on March 23rd, 2010 at 7:11 am

Well played, Google, or in pool table terms, nice leave. From the start, the Google-China stare-down held no hope of compromise (see “Outlook for Google’s China talks: nasty, brutish and short“), so the question became which side would succeed in framing the conflict and its consequences: Google, with its focus on censorship, or China, maintaining that all businesses are obliged to follow local laws.

Monday, by simply redirecting to its unfiltered Hong Kong servers, Google pulled off an elegant combination shot:

* It followed through on its pledge to stop delivering a censored search service to China.

* It made China’s local-laws argument moot by moving the service to a different jurisdiction.

* It left the Chinese government to take direct responsibility for further censorship.

* It provided an avenue to keep its traffic from within China flowing.

* It avoided the perception of having abandoned China by continuing to offer search and by retaining its other business operations in the country.

The people of China still won’t see the same Internet as the rest of us. The searches they run through will display uncensored results, but the Great Firewall will still block users from clicking through to sites the authorities don’t want them to see. But at least it will be clearer to Chinese users what is being kept from them and who is doing the censoring.

As Google co-founder Sergey Brin told the New York Times, however, “The story’s not over yet.” China may yet cut off or otherwise restrict access to the Hong Kong servers or take other steps that would interfere with Google’s businesses. In 2½ months of negotiations, Brin said, the company never could get a straight answer from China as to whether the Hong Kong redirection was an acceptable option. “There was a sense that Hong Kong was the right step,” he said. “There’s a lot of lack of clarity. Our hope is that the newly begun Hong Kong service will continue to be available in mainland China.” And just so the world can see what the Chinese authorities are up to, Google has posted a page with a daily scorecard showing which of its services are open, blocked or partially blocked for mainland users.

Meanwhile, China’s official reaction bounced between anger and efforts to downplay the significance of the dispute. “Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks,” said an official with the State Council Information Office. “This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.” At the Foreign Ministry, spokesman Qin Gang said, “I cannot see an impact on China-US relations unless someone wants to politicize that. I cannot see any impact on China’s international image unless someone wants to make an issue of it. It is not China who has undermined its image, it is Google.”

That may be the party line, but the fact is that Google, with one simple and efficient stroke, has left China in a position where it has no legal argument to hide behind and, if it’s intent on keeping its citizens in the dark, no choice but to appear as the bad guy in front of one and all.