Internet Privacy: Overview and Legislation in the 109th Congress, 1st Session [Updated January 26, 2006] [open pdf - 128KB]
"Internet privacy issues encompass several 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. Another is the monitoring of electronic mail and Web usage by the government or law enforcement officials, employers, or email service providers. [...] Congress passed the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56) that, inter alia, makes it easier for law enforcement officials to monitor Internet activities. That act was 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. Some provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including two that relate to Internet use, would have expired on December 31, 2005. Congress passed a brief extension (to February 3, 2006) in P.L. 109-160. Debate over whether civil liberties protections need to be added if the provisions are to be made permanent is expected to continue in the second session of the 109th Congress. Revelations that President Bush directed the National Security Agency to monitor some communications, including e-mails, in the United States without warrants may affect those deliberations."
CRS Report for Congress, RL31408