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Is privacy a thing of the past?

Cell phones, online social networking, and email rule daily life in the 21st century, yet little has been done by Congress to try to update federal privacy laws in order to protect digital communication, an inattention that has brought with it a heavy price according to The New York Times.

Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward Markey has collected striking new data from wireless carriers that shows that the level of surveillance of new and old cell phones by law enforcement agencies at all levels, and for crimes both serious and mundane, has surged over the course of the past five years.

Wireless carriers say that they have responded to no less than 1.3 million demands by law enforcement agencies for subscriber information such as location data, text messages and calling records.  The actual number of people whose privacy was violated by law enforcement is probably even higher, given that just one request for a cell phone tower dump can actually sweep information about thousands of people who are connected to any particular tower at any one time.

Judiciary Committee chairperson Senator Patrick Leahy, the lead author on the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, wants to overhaul that law significantly and he has proposed a new bill to amend it, meaning law enforcement would require a probable cause warrant to access emails as well as other forms of electronic communication.