Apple Joins Push for Clearer Laws on Phone Searches

Apple Joins Push for Clearer Laws on Phone Searches

Apple joined the push for an update to laws governing the search of mobile devices, in an effort to modernize rules for the digital age.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company and cloud-based storage provider Dropbox teamed up with other technology firms like Comcast and eBay, and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pushing for the update of the nation’s Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The Digital Due Process coalition isn’t focused on repealing the 1986 law, which doesn’t take many modern internet uses and capabilities into consideration and hasn’t been significantly revised since its implementation. The group rather wants to include elements like e-mail, messaging, cloud computing, social media, search and location tracking, to name a few, in the law.

The coalition seeks a clearer approach to the law as it applies to modern technology innovations. Many of these electronic advances became widespread after the law was enacted, leading lower courts to determine a patchwork of rulings on their use.

For example, e-mail, messaging, cell phones and location tracking may be subject to warrant or may require a lesser order to be searched by law enforcement. Reviewing a person’s computer search mechanism is also not covered in any form, prompting the DPP to push for clear provisions to better govern these functions.

State courts currently facing legal questions over these issues are proceeding, sometimes unevenly, without federal sufficient guidelines. This spring, Michigan State Police began searching drivers’ cell phones, accessing contacts, pictures, texts, and even geo-location data.

That same practice may be curtailed in California if its State Assembly approves a bill forwarded last month requiring law enforcement officers to secure a warrant before searching cell phones.

Both cases illustrate the different levels of authority that law enforcement is required to obtain in order to search people’s mobile devices.

The aim of the Digital Due Process group is to “simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA [Electronic Communications Privacy Act] standards, providing stronger privacy protections for communications and associated data in response to changes in technology and new services and usage patterns, while preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public.”

The public is growing increasingly concerned over the news that their cell phone and mobile device data isn’t secure from malware, third party advertisers, and even the devices’ software creators themselves.

Apple and Dropbox mark the joining of more high-tech titans to the DDP’s coalition, signaling the push to clarify laws around search in mobile and Internet devices may gain momentum.

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