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When ‘digital handcuffs’ take effect, privacy rights are likely to suffer

By LYNN HALLAMYWASHINGTON (Reuters) – For the first time in more than a decade, the U.S. government has placed online privacy at risk.

The move comes amid a growing debate over whether online surveillance can be justified as necessary to combat terrorism, or to protect Americans from domestic threats such as cybercrime.

The U.N. Working Group on the Protection of Privacy and Civil Liberties (WGPOL) issued a report on Friday that called for an end to the practice of collecting metadata on Americans without their consent.

The report says the U:ll start to recognize that the use of electronic surveillance is not a matter of national security but is a matter that affects individuals and businesses worldwide.

“Digital handcuffs” are measures by the U of S. government to make it harder for online service providers to track users and their activity, said the report, which was authored by WGPOL’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Coordinator, Jennifer Liss-Riordan.

The U.s. government is “increasingly applying the principle that the internet is not an open space to target and surveil individuals,” she said.

“While the U S. does not have the capability to create a ‘digital lock’ to stop this surveillance, there is a danger that a lack of legal protection could allow this to happen.”

The report says that since 2006, Congress has given the FBI a green light to use bulk collection of Americans’ communications, including metadata.

The bureau is now able to collect that information from Internet service providers such as Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc, Time Warner Cable Inc, Cox Communications Inc and Charter Communications Inc.

The new legislation, the first significant legislative effort to address the issue since the Snowden revelations in 2013, comes after lawmakers in the United States and Europe passed sweeping privacy protections and laws.

In response, U. S. and European privacy advocates and civil liberties groups have criticized the Obama administration for using metadata collection to target Americans for the purposes of fighting terrorism and protecting citizens.

A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that the vast majority of Americans do not support the idea of using the U’s digital handcuffs.

More than half of Americans (53 percent) say they are opposed to “spying on private communications to target people for government surveillance,” while more than half (54 percent) said they are in favor of such a practice.

The WGPROL report also said the U could be in violation of international treaties if the U government does not comply with existing privacy and data protection standards.

The report notes that U. s Privacy and Digital Communications Act and the EU Data Protection Directive require Internet service companies to store customers’ personal information for at least two years, and the U is also required to create an online portal to make its data public.

“We know that we cannot rely on this digital handcuffs approach alone to prevent this type of abuse,” the report said.

“As more and more Americans are forced to choose between privacy and protecting their online lives, there are real opportunities to reform the way we use technology, and that includes a renewed push to ensure that our laws and policies protect our digital liberties and data privacy rights.”

The U of s push to reform online privacy laws and to provide new protections for users comes after several other countries have taken steps to curb the collection of private data.

The European Union in July proposed a bill that would have forced internet service providers like Comcast to delete their customers’ browsing history, and several other nations are also pushing for new legislation to ensure greater transparency in the use and disclosure of personal information.

The United States, which has a long history of legal challenges to the NSA’s spying practices, has been trying to reform its privacy laws for years.

The latest effort to update privacy protections has gained bipartisan support in Congress.

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would give the FBI greater powers to collect data from Internet users in order to combat cybercrime and other threats.

The bill passed the Senate in June and now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.(Reporting by Lynn Hallamy; Editing by Paul Simao)

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