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Google presses for e-mail privacy

WASHINGTON — Google Inc., which says it gets about 1,400 requests a month from US authorities for users’ e-mails and documents, is organizing an effort to press for limits on government access to digital communications.

The company has been talking to advocacy groups and companies about joining a lobbying effort to change the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, said Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman. He declined to elaborate.

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‘‘Given the realities of how people live and where things are going in the digital world, it’s an important time for government to act’’ to update the law, David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said in an interview. ‘‘It’s a bipartisan issue and I think the momentum is going to build because citizens are expecting this.’’

Google officials say changes in the law are needed to prevent law enforcement from obtaining certain e-mails and other content without search warrants, and to give documents stored on cloud services the same legal protections as paper documents stored in a desk drawer. Cloud services, which didn’t exist when the privacy law was passed, let users store and process data on remote servers via the Internet.

Spending on public cloud services is expected to reach $100 billion globally by 2016, from $40 billion last year, according to research firm IDC.

Last year, the owner of the world’s largest search engine helped lead an Internet protest movement that derailed antipiracy legislation in both houses of Congress. It began drawing attention to the privacy law last week, disclosing that more than two-thirds of 8,438 requests for user data it received from US authorities in the second half of last year took place without a search warrant.

The privacy law sets out how law enforcement can get access to e-mails and other forms of digital communication. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and one of law’s original architects, said it has been made outdated by technology advances and expanded government surveillance powers.

The senator, in a Jan. 16 speech, said he’ll reintroduce electronic privacy legislation this year. He said he stayed on as judiciary committee chairman to continue that effort.

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