Today, Public Knowledge joins a nationwide day of action calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Act (“ECPA”). Please sign a White House petition to improve legal protections of our communications.
Have you ever wondered what, if anything, protects the content of your emails from prying government eyes? Well, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) is supposed to do that. But there’s a big problem with ECPA: it was written in the 1980s and has never been updated. As we all know, there have been some major changes to the way we communicate in the last 25 years. Those changes, in combination with an outdated law, have created some troubling deficits in privacy protection.
For example, ECPA affords less protection to personal information stored in the cloud than it does to information stored locally. So if you have Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, or another cloud-based email provider, the government might be able to read your old emails without a search warrant. Also, because cell phones had barely been introduced to the public when the law was written, it is (unsurprisingly) unclear about how courts should treat the location data that service carriers collect. This means that many courts will allow the government to access very granular information about your location—either historically or in real-time—without a warrant as well.
To fix these and other problems, privacy advocates have been urging lawmakers to update the law for years. Congress has taken some promising steps in the right direction, but so far nothing has passed.
In a recent twist, it turns out that the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) might be one of the barriers to getting ECPA updated. A few months ago, it came out that the SEC is blocking ECPA reform because it wants any legislation to include a carve-out for itself and other agencies that would allow them to access electronic communications without a warrant. But that kind of carve-out would turn something meant to improve privacy protections into something that actively erodes them instead. So now there’s a White House petition asking the administration to support a clean ECPA reform bill. The petition has 27k signatures and needs to get to 100k by December 12 to get an official response from the Obama administration.
Can you spare 30 seconds to help us out?
Click here to go to the petition.
Day of action participating organizations:
Americans for Tax Reform
American Library Association
Application Developers Alliance
Association for Competitive Technology
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Computer & Communications Industry Association
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
Free Press Action Fund
The Internet Association
Internet Infrastructure Coalition
NY Tech Meetup
Open Technology Institute