Patrick Leahy Introduces Legislation (Yet Again) To Require Government Warrants To Get Your Electronic Info
from the dc-just-keeps-doing-remakes dept
It’s been quite a day in terms of news out of DC. We’ve been talking about copyright/first sale, cybersecurity bills, the CFAA… and now Senator Patrick Leahy, for what feels like the 2,394th time, has introduced a plan to reform ECPA. Like the CFAA, ECPA is an extremely troubling and outdated piece of legislation where Congress tried to deal with “those computer things” back in the 1980s in a manner that just doesn’t make any sense today. Mainly it has opened up massive loopholes for the US government to access your data with little to no oversight (for example, the law considers messages on a server for over 180 days to be “abandoned” and thus fair game for law enforcement, as it never considered the idea of cloud storage). Senator Leahy would like to update the law to protect our privacy, such that law enforcement would actually be required to get a warrant.
If all of this sounds familiar, you wouldn’t be wrong. We’ve been discussing it forever. Leahy keeps introducing bills and they never seem to turn into law. Law enforcement has been his main antagonist on this, though the DOJ (somewhat surprisingly) appeared to concede today that ECPA needs significant reform, even calling out the 180 day issue explicitly in testimony before the Judiciary Committee:
Many have noted—and we agree—that some of the lines drawn by the SCA that may have made sense in the past have failed to keep up with the development of technology, and the ways in which individuals and companies use, and increasingly rely on, electronic and stored communications. We agree, for example, that there is no principled basis to treat email less than 180 days old differently than email more than 180 days old. Similarly, it makes sense that the statute not accord lesser protection to opened emails than it gives to emails that are unopened.
That said, the DOJ is likely to push back on significant parts of any ECPA reform effort, to make sure it still has the ability to trawl through as much data as possible. Much of the testimony seems to warn of a parade of horribles that could occur if (gasp!) it has to get warrants for everything.