March 30, 2010

Senate Committee Considering Electronic Privacy Laws

Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter has announced his plans to introduce legislation to ensure electronic privacy, telling a Congressional subcommittee that current wiretap and video-surveillance laws to not do enough to protect individuals.

Specter's call to action comes on the heels of a lawsuit, filed by a student of the Lower Merion School District in the Senator's home state, over a high school's attempt to locate 42 missing laptops by activating webcams. The issue is that doing so could have enabled the school to film students with school-issued laptops at their homes.

A statement written by the student, Blake Robbins, was read during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee today. In it, Robbins said, "My family and I recognize that in today's society, almost every place we go outside of our home we are photographed and recorded by traffic cameras, ATM cameras, and store surveillance cameras"¦ This makes it all the more important that we vigilantly safeguard our homes, the only refuge we have from this eyes everywhere onslaught."

During the hearing, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kevin Bankston suggested that existing wiretap laws should be broadened to include videotaped surveillance. However, according to a March 29 Associated Press (AP) article, Absolute Software Corp. chairman John Livingston recommended that an exception be included in cases where companies are tracking stolen merchandise.

According to AP reporter MaryClaire Dale, Indiana University law professor and cybersecurity expert Fred H. Cate testified that he felt that there was "no question" that the federal government "should be legislating in this area."

Specter noted that he believed that his fellow Senators would be "responsive" to the idea of protecting electronic privacy, and added that "if there is a gap, it ought to be closed."


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