My turn: There is no due process with e-mail

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2007

Kevin Reeves' commentary in the Juneau Empire, ("'Big Brother' is almost here," July 13) amplifies a discovery I made that scares the living frijoles out of me: With today's technology the government can monitor our e-mail and eventually all computerized documents without ever needing a search warrant.

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All individual e-mails can be screened and neither the sender nor receiver will know. This all could be done legally.

The other day, when I set up a client's Internet browser to receive AT&T/Yahoo e-mail, my client worried about losing recent e-mails. When I accessed my client's page, there was a mirror image of all the recent messages that person received over the last several months, fully accessible on Yahoo's home servers.

I first noticed this practice when setting up a Google Gmail account. Creating the account was much easier than I expected, and in the process, I found that Google saves all e-mails on its servers, which the account holder can read by signing in. Unlike older services, such as Juno, which downloads one's e-mails to his or her own computer, Google advertises this service as being accessible from any location.

In addition to Gmail, Google offers a series of free applications to do word processing, spreadsheets and CAD-like drawings. All that has to be done is access the Web-based programs on Google's servers. Some of its new applications are in Beta right now, which means that when the suite is fully functional, I expect there will be a full-court advertising blitz promoting the advantages of Web-based programs. To compete with established suites in general circulation today, these programs will have to be just as good as the programs with which millions of Americans are familiar.

With all that free server space available, which increases by the minute, why should you ever have to worry about losing your e-mail? You won't, but individual account holders will not be the only people with access to their mail, documents, pictures and spreadsheets saved on these servers.

All Google, Yahoo or any Internet-based service has to do under present technology is make one mirror copy of their servers and send it to the appropriate federal agency. The mirror could then be analyzed by supercomputers, and anything deemed questionable would be looked into further.

All of this could be done without a warrant ever needing to be issued to an individual account holder. As computers become easier to use and more powerful, and fast broad-band connections become available to most people, Web-based programs will become too attractive to overlook. Overseers will be able to inspect whatever the account holder saves to the Web and determine its efficacy. In the name of public safety, nary a constitutional challenge will exist.

The pieces for this are already in place. The silicon server will be tomorrow's security video camera. Just as speeders are photographed at intersections today, speed typists will be captured in a silicon tomorrow. And there will be no escape.

• Gary D. Brune is a resident of Paradise, Calif.

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