ECPA Reform Moves, But Do People Care?

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was just passed by the House Judiciary Committee and will soon be presented to the House. Privacy advocates are celebrating this step forward for digital privacy. We are concerned, however, about the response from the people. A recent survey shows that just over half care about the privacy of their Internet communications, and less care about other personal information online.

ECPA Reform Bill Passed

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on the ECPA Reform Bill last Wednesday. The bill will now go back to the House and then to the Senate for voting. This is being hailed as a vital victory for digital privacy. The ECPA governs the behavior of the government when seeking data stored by users in the cloud. The 1986 Act does not provide data privacy for our modern world, and we need these reforms to ensure that our pictures, files, and other digital information are protected.

The update included in the reform bill has been in the works for six years, and we can’t wait to see them activated. It is called the Manager’s Substitute Amendment to the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), authored by Bob Goodlatte of Virginia’s 6th congressional district. Top privacy VPNs like VyprVPN support this reform, as do rights organizations like the Center for Technology and Democracy.

Do People Care About Communications Security?

It was disappointing for many to see that at first less than half of the population stood up with Apple against the government’s aggressive attempts to break encryption. After this experience, though we had hoped for a better response, we were prepared to see that not much more than half seem to care about protecting their personal communications. Not every average Internet user is passionate about privacy on the Internet, but we have to understand that many basic users are not too well informed about the privacy risks, and others do not think that it is a big deal because they can’t imagine that the government would want to waste time spying on them.

A recent research project of Ericsson ConsumerLab shows us what today’s consumers think about the online privacy of their information, the goal of ECPA reform. The survey was conducted on people from 23 countries, revealing first that about 75% of those surveyed used the Internet daily, and about 50% of them used social media daily. General personal privacy on the Internet may not be a priority for many when they are getting something in exchange, like a free service. There are, however, specific areas where people are aware of risks and have information that they would like to keep private.

Personal communications came out as a top concern among smartphone users who were surveyed. 56% of them want encryption for their email, chat, and other online communications. Financial privacy was another top concern. 47% of them did not want to have to reveal their identities when paying by credit card, possibly showing that they are aware of tracking concerns and the risk of credit card fraud.

When asked about smart apps for city life, almost 70% of smartphone owners surveyed said that they expected to use them by 2020. Smart city apps include real-time traffic information, collated data on utilities usage per household, and public facilities’ water quality. An average of just above 70% of them would like to have these apps, showing that they are not concerned about sharing this travel and household information with the general public. This is alarming to privacy experts.

Of even greater concern is the openness to the Internet of Things. Remember here that the 56% result for privacy-consciousness related only to communications privacy. On average, just under 50% of those surveyed were interested in home devices that could give them health information, tell them about the movements of family members, and monitor appliances for safety and power consumption. And here’s a scary one: 40% wanted to have not just an app but a wearable that would be capable of sending messages by thought. Imagine the kind of very personal access that such a device would need to have to function.

Judging by the general consensus here that people are willing to give up personal information for convenience, the privacy risks are just going to get bigger as technology advances. We did not even touch on how many people want domestic robots, holographic video calls and virtual reality dating services, or those who think that kids’ increased connectivity is all good. With most people thinking that they don’t need encryption to protect their shopping lists, we may be in for a world of hurt when the next big data hack reveals some very intimate data on our home life and very detailed accounts about our off-hours activities.

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