Internet Privacy: Overview and Pending Legislation [Updated December 22, 2004]   [open pdf - 179KB]

"Internet privacy issues generally encompass two types of concerns. One is the collection of personally identifiable information (PII) by website operators from visitors to government and commercial websites, or by software that is surreptitiously installed on a user's computer ('spyware') and transmits the information to someone else. The other is the monitoring of electronic mail and Web usage by the government or law enforcement officials, employers, or Internet Service Providers. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks intensified debate over the issue of law enforcement monitoring, with some advocating increased tools for law enforcement officials to track down terrorists, and others cautioning that fundamental tenets of democracy, such as privacy, not be endangered in that pursuit. Congress passed the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56) that, inter alia, makes it easier for law enforcement to monitor Internet activities. That act was later amended by the Homeland Security Act (P.L. 107-296), loosening restrictions as to when, and to whom, Internet Service Providers may voluntarily release the content of communications if they believe there is a danger of death or injury. The report of the 9/11 Commission called for a full and informed debate on the USA PATRIOT Act, and creation of a board to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected. Congress directed that a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board be established as part of the law that implements many of the Commission's recommendations (P.L.108-457, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act)."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL31408
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