Expectation of Privacy in Your Email?

Google doesn’t think so.  In court filings last month, Google argued not only that someone using its service has no reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their emails, but that anyone that sends a Gmail user an email has no expectation of privacy.  The main case cited by Google was Smith v. Maryland, whereby the Supreme Court held that the use of a pen register (a device that records all numbers called from a particular phone line) was not a violation of the 4th Amendment because no reasonable expectation of privacy existed in the numbers you were dialing as you were freely giving these to the phone company in order to connect you.

While Google’s arguments may be relevant to the NSA’s metadata collection programs, Google’s algorithms go beyond recording email addresses, but read the content of emails as well.  For this reason, in this author’s opinion, the analogy with Smith is strained to say the least.

In what makes for some interesting reading, the class action complaint filed against Google that has precipitated these 4th Amendment arguments, largely revolves around Google’s decision to change its privacy policies related to all of its products to a single policy which allows Google to use information obtained from one product with a consumers use on any of its products.

Citing an Eric Schmidt quote (Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it. – October 2010), the complaint can be summed up by saying that the Plaintiff’s believe that Google has officially crossed the creepy line and into breaking the law territory.

While the blogosphere is hammering Google for this admission, it may actually work in their favor- the more the world knows that Google is reading and using your information (beyond the indiscernible privacy policies that is), the less a person will, in the future, be able to continue to claim that they have an expectation of privacy because they’ve been put on notice about Google practices.  This is exactly, in fact, what Google argues with respect to the named Plaintiffs.  Even knowing this, hundreds of millions of people continue to use Google products because, well, there pretty darn good and they’re free.  Wait…what was that adage again?  Oh yeah-

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

A copy of the original complaint (albeit severely redacted) of the lawsuit is available here.

A copy of Google’s motion to dismiss and its arguments relating to reasonable expectation of privacy is available here.


British Columbia Introduces ODR for Consumer Disputes

The Consumer Protections bureau for British Columbia has begun offering a pilot version of their Online Dispute Resolution platform, with the goal of improving the efficiency and lowering costs of settling disputes.  ODR is a way of conducting arbitration and mediation through the web, with all of the resources kept in a digital format, allowing for simple and asynchronous access, and efficient negotiation from anywhere.

The program is currently free, can be accessed at any time, and allows Consumer Protections BC to step in as a neutral third-party in specific situations.  Depending on the success of this program, plans are in the works to extend ODR to the Civil Resolution Tribunal to handle small claims cheaper and faster than if they were to go to court.  Success of the program in BC would provide a nice proving ground for the platform, to which other jurisdictions could look when developing their own ODR methods.


Debate Continues Over Brazil’s “Internet Bill of Rights”

Since 2009, lawmakers in Brazil have been attempting to pass a revolutionary piece of legislation which would recognize a new swath of civil rights regarding the Internet.  The “Marco Civil da Internet” borrows from international internet norms regarding expression, privacy, and net neutrality to identify new legal rights which would ensure that citizens reap the benefits of internet freedom while still being protected from data snooping and other possible harms.  The Marco Civil would restrict both the government and private actors’ abilities to violate citizens new rights. Many global tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Mozilla support this bill in the hopes that other nations would follow Brazil’s lead.

The bill has faced harsh opposition from corporate groups and telecom companies who fear that continuing common, benign, practices under the new regime would leave them open to liability.  Other groups fear that changes to the bill have diluted its effectiveness in protecting for freedom of expression and other rights.  The result up to this point has been to make the process of drafting and revising the bill very difficult.   Questions arise such as whether these are negative rights, in that they dictate what the government and private actors cannot do with respect to a citizen’s use of the Internet, or positive rights, in that they convey an obligation by the government to ensure that its citizens have free and protected access to the Internet.

The text of the final product would be immensely important not just for Brazil, but will affect how all nations frame their discussions on internet rights.  As such many are hoping the bill is passed as soon as possible, so that such a step forward in internet rights does not founder under Brazil’s political struggles.