Genealogists and Privacy Advocates before the US Supreme Court

On February 7, 2013 the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) joined with 18 national privacy, civil liberties and consumer organizations on an amicus brief in support of a petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed with the US Supreme Court in Jennings v. Broome, an important e-mail privacy case.

A digital version of the brief is available at http://epic.org/amicus/ecpa/jennings/12-831-EPIC-Amicus-Brief.pdf.  Additional information about the case is found at http://epic.org/amicus/ecpa/jennings/.

RPAC joined the Digital Due Process Coalition last fall anticipating that this affiliation would afford an opportunity to become participants in discussions in which issues of interest to the genealogical community were being hammered out.   The RPAC Blog entry for 2 Dec at www.fgs.org/rpac  gives additional rationale.  For the past two years, the principal focus of the Coalition has been to encourage the Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to reflect evolving technologies.   All members of the coalition have agreed to the basic principles outlined on the coalition website at www.digitaldueprocess.org .

In the meantime, cases interpreting the 1986 version of ECPA have been percolating through the courts.  Lower courts have diverged in interpreting the legacy ECPA language (including the Stored Communications Act) with some protecting the privacy of personal emails and another exposing them to scrutiny.  The Supreme Court of the United States could resolve the divergence of opinions in the lower courts by accepting an appeal from the ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court in the case of Jennings v. Broome but they are not required to do so. The losing party in that case is asking the US Supreme Court to take the appeal through the procedure of filing a Petition For A Writ of Certiorari.

May the long-neglected discussion among genealogists, technologists, and privacy advocates build on this small piece of common ground.

Stay tuned.

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