An updated version of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The ECPA governs privacy regulations for nearly everything on the internet, and has not been updated in 27 years, despite significantly evolved technology. Other reforms for the ECPA were passed by the committee November 2012, but not voted on by the whole Senate before the end of their session.
The current ECPA requires a warrant for emails less than six months old. Other information stored online or older emails can be accessed by government officials with only a subpoena. The current version of the law has led to many confused and contradictory legal rulings on what counts as “electronic storage,” a term defined before cloud computing. The updated version passed by the Judiciary Committee, would require officials to get a search warrant from a judge before searching for any online data.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, as part of the Digital Due Process Coalition, joined over eighty other organizations and companies to send a letter to the Chairman of the Senate committee, Patrick Leahy, endorsing the amendments to the law. The letter states that the updates, “would provide clarity and certainty to law enforcement agencies at all levels and to American businesses developing innovative new services and competing in a global marketplace.” Other cosigners included Microsoft, Facebook, Mozilla, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo.
The BORDC’s Shahid Buttar said that:
Laws protecting our privacy online have been obsolete for decades, leaving all Americans at risk of arbitrary electronic seizures. The proposed reforms to ECPA are not enough by a long shot, but it is long past time for Congress to fix the digital exception to the 4th amendment.
These updates to ECPA must be passed in the Senate and the House before they are approved, but according to Politico, Congress is not expected to oppose the bipartisan amendments. It is important to remember that just a week ago the House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). The Senate has not seemed eager to approve CISPA and is making small steps towards protecting our online information by updating ECPA, but more regulation is needed to bring constitutional protection into the digital age.