Email Snooping Bill Paves Way for Netflix Sharing
A big privacy law boosts a little Netflix app for Facebook.
In a twist of legislative bureaucracy, a measure to beef up email privacy might have the side effect of letting your Facebook friends see all the videos you've been watching — with your blanket approval.
The Senate Judiciary Committee today (Nov. 29) unanimously voted to pass an amendment that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before reading emails, Facebook messages and other electronic communications.
The amendment might kick-start the bill it's attached to — an update to the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act that would make it easier to let your social network know what videos you like.
The bill (H.R. 2471) has been languishing in committee for about a year, after being passed by the House in 2011. But the electronic communications amendment has pushed it back into the public spotlight.
The biggest effect that the passage of H.R. 2471 would have on the public — or at least the 170 million U.S. users of Facebook — is that it would enable Netflix viewers to automatically share the movies they're watching to their Facebook newsfeeds, once they installed the Netflix app. The U.S. is the only country that prevents Facebook members from using the Netflix app.
So what's all the fuss? Currently, a 1980s-era law requires people to give their consent each time they want to share a video title they've watched. The law was passed in 1988 after Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental records were published in a newspaper, long before the advent of streaming media and social sharing. Al Franken, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed that "case-by-case consent is a smart thing." And he was backed up by testimony from privacy advocates such as Electronic Privacy Information Center. [Read more: Senators Consider Banning Automatic media sharing on Facebook. ]
What's next? Now that the bill has been approved by committee, it will go before the full Senate for a vote. However, an aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., author of the bill and the amendment, said it was unlikely that the bill would get floor time this year. A vote on the bill is likely sometime in 2013, the aide said.
Meanwhile, if you want to tell friends about a great movie you are watching, you'll have to press pause and type out a status update.