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The widening gap between technology harvesting sensitive personal data and the laws designed to prevent misuse of that data needs to be filled, according to the Center for Democracy & Technology.
The center called for more stringent regulations Wednesday, citing government attempts to retrieve millions of cell phone records, its use of cell phones to track suspects, as well as privacy issues raised by Web-based e-mail and spyware that logs keystrokes.
"The capacity of Internet Technology to collect and store data increases every day, as does the volume of personal information we willingly surrender as we take advantage of new services," CDT Policy Director Jim Dempsey said in a prepared statement. "Meanwhile, the laws that are supposed to prevent the government from unfairly accessing personal information haven't changed in two decades."
Dempsey, who authored a report called "Digital Search & Seizure: Updating Privacy Protections to Keep Pace with Technology," said most Internet users don't know their privacy is on the line.
The report warns that Web-based e-mail can be reviewed with a subpoena, without users ever realizing it, while messages stored on personal computers can only be accessed with search warrants. It also points out that there aren't any laws specifically governing the signals and identification numbers that cell phones send out while they are turned on and seeking signals.
The U.S. Department of Justice has defended its recent subpoenas of Internet search records, saying they are needed to determine whether child pornography laws are effective. Investigators and administration officials have said that regular Americans are not being spied on in the government's ongoing surveillance efforts aimed at terrorist networks. The F.B.I. has ignored several requests for comment on its surveillance standards.