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Opinion: Policy Should Stop Government from Seizing Metadata

Currently, the U.S. government can obtain citizens' metadata from organizations, like Internet service providers, with no restrictions. Federal officials should change this unfair status quo through legislation.

FBI (2)
(TNS) — If the FBI or another law enforcement agency wants to tap a cellphone, monitor or other digital communications, or track someone through his digital devices, it has to get a warrant or other court order. That requires the agency to at least tell a judge why it needs the information.

But the government needs no such authorization to demand a panoply of information about an individual from metadata — the record of an individual's digital activity held by third parties such as cellular service providers or Internet service providers.

With the information in hand, the government has no obligation to ever inform a person that it has seized the data, and it has the power to impose unlimited gag orders on the third-party service providers that bar them from informing their customers of the data seizures.

The best-known abuse of such power was when the Trump administration Justice Department seized the email records of several journalists from third-party Internet providers, in an attempt to determine who in the White House had leaked information.

Several bills would help remedy the situation.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously has approved a bill that would limit non-disclosure gag orders on third-party providers. A bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon has proposed a bill that would require agencies themselves to notify people that their data has been seized.

And Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California has introduced the Warrant for Metadata Act, which would limit what third-party providers may collect in the first place, and require government agencies to obtain warrants to seize it.

Congress should revise surveillance laws to protect privacy and meet the 21st century reality of how the digital world actually works.

©2022 The Citizens' Voice. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.