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Thursday, September 22, 2011, 10:18 pm PT (01:18 am ET)

Apple joins coalition lobbying for electronic privacy rights

Apple has joined the Digital Due Process coalition, a group that is advocating for reforms to surveillance laws in the U.S. that would secure individuals' rights to privacy on modern Internet technologies.

Civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation on Thursday awarded Apple a "gold star" in recognition of its efforts to "fight for user privacy in Congress" by joining the group. Cloud-based storage provider Dropbox also received a star for joining the coalition.

The aim of the Digital Due Process group is to "simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA [Electronic Communications Privacy Act] standards, providing stronger privacy protections for communications and associated data in response to changes in technology and new services and usage patterns, while preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public."

The ECPA was enacted in 1986 in an effort to establish restrictions for law enforcement with respect to electronic communications. According to the coalition, the law has not undergone a "significant revision" in its 25 years of existence. The group argues that today's digital communication services, which have undergone significant technological advances since 1986, are not being adequately protected by the ECPA.

Digital Due Process specifically highlights email, mobile location, cloud computing and social networking as new technologies that need to be included in the law. The group also argues that the ECPA in its current form suffers from conflicting standards and illogical distinctions, unclear standards, judicial criticisms and constitutional uncertainty.

Digital Due Process logo


Other prominent members of the coalition include Amazon, AT&T, Google, Intel and Microsoft.

Apple may have a special interest in protecting user privacy for mobile location. Earlier this year, security researchers claimed to have discovered that Apple was tracking users' locations in its iOS 4 mobile operating system. The iPhone maker responded to the controversy by denying that it had tracked users and asserting that it had instead maintained a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell phone towers.

In spite of its claims, Apple has been the target of several law suits and government investigations as a result. The South Korean Communications Commission fined Apple $2,830 in August, while a group of 27,000 residents of the country have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking $26 million in damages for privacy violations.

The Cupertino, Calif., company may also be interested in pushing for reforms that would protect cloud computing users' privacy rights as it readies the launch of its iCloud service this fall. Given that Apple is planning on widespread adoption of its new cloud computing initiative, the company is assumedly looking to avoid any privacy-related controversies that could spook users.

Earlier this year, Apple announced that it will deprecate application access to "uniqueIdentifier," also known as UDID. The company is facing lawsuits over the UDID issue, with users complaining that their privacy has been violated.

During a Senate hearing in May, Apple Vice President of Software Technology Bud Tribble highlighted the company's commitment to customer privacy. "Apple is strongly committed to giving our customers clear and transparent notice, choice and control over their information, and we believe our products do so in a simple and elegant way," he said.