Communication-and Your Privacy- The Electronic Communications Privacy Act

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The right to privacy is one that historically has been vehemently protected in American society. For the most part this was viewed as the entering of an individuals home, reading their mail, etc. In current society there was a need for a new regulation on what communication would be deemed private and what communication would be viewed as not deserving of this protection. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act regulates individual’s privacy rights when they are utilizing any modes of electronic communication transmissions including telephones, computers, and cell phones. Even the ever-popular text messaging will fall within the purview of this law. Also new communication devices that weren’t contemplated by the original enactment of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in 1986 will still fall underneath its guidelines as long as they meet the electronic communications test.

Basically the act will make it illegal to utilize electronic communication in a way that is designed to convict someone of a crime or in an effort to gain information to charge someone with a crime unless there is search warrant in place. Also, a search warrant will be required if a governmental agency wishes to listen in on communications that are likely to lead to the issuance of search warrant.

The coverage of this act was weakened with the passage of the Patriot act that provided very vague guidelines as to when the government could literally violate the rights granted by the Electronic communications Act and listen in on the conversations and digital communications of private citizens. However this is only applicable in extreme circumstances. For the most part the government must go thru the proper steps and proper channels in order to listen in on a private citizens electronic communication without his or her consent. This provides citizens with the right to conduct busines and hold conversations without the fear of being listened in on and having thier privacy violated.

Communication and the Law- The Communications Decency Act

The law has had implications in communication since the advent of the First Amendment right to free speech. Title V of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 also known as the Communications Decency act was brought into being in an effort to regulate and prohibit activities. It was originally intended as a legislative response to the overwhelming number of obscene sites on the Internet. In fact its main goal was to protect children from pornography on the web. Yet in its enactment the law expanded provisions that caused it to also be applicable to obscene and harassing phone calls as well as to adult content on cable television.

This legislation specifically prohibits obscene or harassing utilization of a wide array of telecommunicative devices including the telephone, cable television programming and the Internet for the purpose transmitting, viewing, or accessing pornography. In relation to cable television, it gave permission for the cable broadcast stations to block access to people that weren’t subscribers, and allowed cable stations to have the right to not carry programs they deemed obscene. It also offered protection to internet service providers from any legal consequences as a result of what other people posted on the web- i.e. third party content.

An individual can be held criminally liable for knowingly transmitting patently offensive, indecent or obscene materials over the Internet. This was a highly controversial act that many felt was the governments attempt to censor internet content- however others felt that it was extremely important to make sure that children could have an safe and enjoyable internet experience and that if in the event a child did encounter obscene material that the ISP itself wasn’t held liable. This was viewed as a very important piece of legislation by ISP’s because it provided them with much needed protection from being sued for content they had no control over.

How the Internet and CellPhones Have Changed the Way Society Communicates

Historically most communication between individuals took place either face to face, via U.S. mail or via the landline telephone. With the communications and digital revolution, we have found newer ways to express ourselves and to communicate with others- and almost all of them are centered around the Internet.

Just a mere 15 years ago cell phones were barely being used- one because they were so expensive to buy and cumbersome to carry and also because they were very expensive to use. So we had windows of time throughout the day- on the way to and from work, on errands, and so forth that we would only communicate with the people we actually encountered face to face. However as technological innovation grew so did the availability of cell phone usage. They become more portable and the charges associated with their monthly use are still decreasing. The Internet was popular but it also had to wait until we got home or to the office where a computer was available to answer emails, etc. Now that the two technologies have become inextricably intertwined, we are now constantly communicating in a variety of modes sometimes at the same time. You are on your cell phone reading thru your favorite social media website, answering text messages and then your phone rings- its happened to all of us.

There are some who complain that all of the electronic communication has had a negative impact on face-to-face communication. People are more tuned into to their digital device than into driving, and even looking other individuals in the face to acknowledge their presence. However there are others who see the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere and the ability to meet and positively interact with people all over the world is worth it.