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Want Data Privacy For Your Email, ISP, Social Media? Ask the EFF

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 03, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With so much of our data, and our clients' data, transferred over the Internet, lawyers have an especially significant interest in data privacy. We aren't tweens visiting Justin Bieber sites. We are counselors with clients' financial records, identifying information, and sensitive case data stored on our computers, in the cloud, and occasionally, in our email inboxes.

When evaluating service providers, we have repeatedly advised our readers to look at the company's privacy policy, terms of service, and past practices. Who owns the data? Who can access it? Do they suffer frequent security breaches?

It's not just the company and hackers you have to worry about, however. Though the Feds aren't peeping into everyone's inboxes, if you have a client with a sensitive matter, isn't worth choosing the most stalwart provider?

The best place to start, in terms of protecting you from the government, is the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back?” list. The EFF evaluates a number of cloud storage repositories, broadband providers, social networks, and other Internet companies, awarding stars in the following six categories:

  1. Require a warrant for content of communications. In 2010, the Sixth Circuit, in United States v. Warshak, held that the Fourth Amendment protects users’ data stored with an Internet service provider. This new category recognizes companies that require a warrant before turning over data.
  2. Tell users about government data requests. Companies earn a star here for promising to tell users about government inquiries unless prohibited by law.
  3. Publish transparency reports. Gold star if a company publishes reports on data provided to the government.
  4. Publish law enforcement guidelines. In order to unlock this star, companies must publish policies or guidelines on how requests are handled, such as procedures for law enforcement to follow.
  5. Fight for users’ privacy rights in courts. This category deserves an asterisk. Companies earn a star for fighting for users in court. Obviously, not every company has yet had such an opportunity.
  6. Fight for users’ privacy in Congress. Companies that have joined the Digital Due Process Coalition, which lobbies for better electronic privacy laws (see the issues with the CFAA and the ECPA).

Five or Six Stars (Near Privacy Perfection)

Looking for an Internet service provider? If you are in the Bay Area, earned a full six stars, easily annihilating Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. Other strong showings included Twitter (six), LinkedIn (five), Dropbox (five), SpiderOak (five), and Google (five).

Three to Four Stars (Acceptable)

Blogging platforms WordPress and Tumblr earned four and three stars respectively. Microsoft also earned four, as did the appropriately-named Foursquare. Facebook scored three stars.

Zero to Two Stars (Fail)

Two star failures include Amazon, Comcast, and MySpace. One star shockers came from Yahoo!, Apple, and AT&T, while Verizon scored a pathetic zero stars.

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