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Google: Tell the feds they have to get a warrant for us to hand over your stuff

Though that's no guarantee you'll ever find out

Google is promoting a White House petition to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that would force government agencies to get a warrant before rifling through emails and other electronic communications.

The Chocolate Factory posted a link to the epetition on Google+, supporting the attempt to get the 25-year-old ECPA updated.

Under current rules, the NSA, IRS and hundreds of other acronym-heavy US agencies can get a subpoena for any private online information that's over six months old, forcing service providers to turn over the information on just the government's authority.

Subpoenas don't need to be issued by a judge; other officers of the court can also issue them, and they don't need to meet the requirements for probable cause either.

The petition, which currently has around 56,000 of the 100,000 signatures it needs to get an answer, aims to ensure the success of at least one of a number of bills in Congress that will force the g-men to obtain a court warrant for access to personal data through the ECPA.

A warrant – as distinct from a subpoena – can only be issued by a judge and has to meet the standard of probable cause, which will be familiar to watchers of the various US crime TV shows. Of course, that judge could well be a secret judge in a secret court who issues a secret warrant that the data holder isn't allowed to tell anyone about, but at least somebody other than their own inhouse lawyers will have had a look at the case before the spooks can proceed.

According to the petition, "regulatory bodies are blocking the reform in order to gain new powers of warrantless access". ®

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