It’s About Time: ECPA Reform Considered by US House Judiciary Committee

ECPA, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, was debated by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The law was originally passed in 1986, and allows the government (law enforcement) to access digital communications, such as emails, without a warrant if they have been stored for over 6 months.

ECPA is highly outdated given how much technology and digital communications have changed since 1986, and this hearing was long overdue. Testimonies were made by the SEC, US attorneys, and the FBI, as well as supporters of the legislation like Google and the Center for Democracy and Technology.  As reported by The Daily Dot, online privacy reform is widely desired – with support from 85% of Americans, and 86% of both Democrats and Republications supporting ECPA reform.

Proposed reform includes a requirement for government to use a warrant to access any online communications – regardless of their date. As explained by The Hill, when the bill was first written, long term email storage was “impractical” and cloud storage didn’t exist. Although many are in favor of reform, some organizations (for example, the SEC) are not in favor of the proposed updates as they seek increased (rather than decreased) access to communications.

Comments on both sides of Tuesday’s hearing include:

“While most issues take months to gain support from the public, updating ECPA is ready for action,” the Digital 4th Coalition said in a statement announcing the poll results. “It is clear from our results that Americans want online privacy rules to be updated and respond to the message that these laws were written before most people had emails and access to reliable Internet.”

“It’s important that our laws keep pace with ever-evolving technologies so that we protect our constitutional rights in today’s digital age,” Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said in a statement. “It’s also imperative that law enforcement has a workable law to conduct investigations so that it can protect our communities.”

At Golden Frog, we are strongly in favor of ECPA reform. We recently traveled to Washington DC to share our views on the issue. We also recently outlined our stance on ECPA in a blog post. We will be closely watching as ECPA progresses towards voting, and are hopeful it will finally be reformed to accurately prevent government snooping and intrusion and protect Internet communications in today’s digital world.

 

Sources: Information included in this article is from The Hill, The Daily Dot, The Washington Post and EFF.