More Than Half Of The House Co-Sponsoring Email Privacy Reform; So Why Isn't It Moving?

from the ecpa-reform-now dept

For quite some time we’ve talked about the importance of ECPA reform. ECPA — the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — is woefully outdated. Passed in the 1980s, when the internet was just a small network that connected a few universities, it has allowed law enforcement and other government officials to snoop on your email based on some very outdated definitions and assumptions. As we’ve discussed in the past, one very obvious example, is the idea that, under the law, emails stored on a server for over 180 days are considered “abandoned” and that there’s no need to get a warrant to view those emails. Of course, that was back when people expected old emails to be either deleted or downloaded. No one predicted “cloud” computing with virtually unlimited storage.

For years now, there’s been a major effort at ECPA reform, to actually make sure that law enforcement needs a warrant to view your emails. It has had strong support in Congress for some time, but the main folks fighting against it are the SEC and the IRS, who like the fact that they can search through your emails without a warrant. In fact, the SEC seems to revel in its ability to do some very questionable things, in part thanks to ECPA.

Earlier this week, the main ECPA reform bill in the House, sponsored by Reps. Kevin Yoder and Jared Polis, hit a new milestone: it currently has 218 co-sponsors, meaning that more than half of the House now has their name on the bill. And yet, the bill is still stalled out, because House leadership has been scared off by the SEC and IRS. Hopefully, the House will finally move forward on this bill.

And while Yoder notes in that article that the NSA revelations have actually helped give this bill momentum, it’s important to note that this is separate from the NSA reform issue. ECPA reform is unrelated to the NSA stuff, but covers what other government agencies can do with your email. Both are important issues, but it would be great to finally get basic ECPA reform through. This is a fight that’s been going on for over a decade, and with more than half the House supporting it, how much longer can Congressional leadership ignore it?

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Comments on “More Than Half Of The House Co-Sponsoring Email Privacy Reform; So Why Isn't It Moving?”

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14 Comments
Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Politics, ewww

I know we don’t normally touch partisan politics here, but on this story, it could make a difference.

Eric Cantor (House majority leader) lost his primary election. House Republicans are already in the process of choosing his replacement, and it looks like it will be Tim Mccarthy. Where does he stand on this?

It is also thought that Boehner will be stepping down as Speaker soon or soonish, which makes Mccarthy the next Speaker (Dems aren’t likely to get the House back for some time).

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Scared

And yet, the bill is still stalled out, because House leadership has been scared off by the SEC and IRS

And here we have yet another HUGE problem: that congress can be scared off by the very agencies that they’re suppose to be overseeing and regulating. That should never happen — in fact, it should be the other way around. You can’t effectively oversee entities that you are afraid of.

Anonymous Coward says:

This whole business is a rats nest of corruption. Why would the congress be scared of the SEC and the IRS unless they were afraid that making a move to update this law would likely put them in jeopardy?

More and more I see the very likelyhood this is one of the problems with why important things aren’t being done that should be done, even with the majority of the house in favor of it.

There’s too many skeletons in the closets of our law makers.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Email practices

” Of course, that was back when people expected old emails to be either deleted or downloaded.”

Yes. We did. Because back then, 1M was a lot of storage, 56K was a fast network connection, and so on.

But you know, it’s STILL a good idea to download and delete your email. There’s no guarantee that your email provider will survive. Or that it has backups. Or that it isn’t backdoored. Or that it won’t be backdoored tomorrow. Or that it doesn’t have gaping security holes. Or that…all kinds of things.

Given the cost of storage, it’s not at all unreasonable to download all email older than (say) 30 days, stash it in a universal format likely be readable in 20 years (“mbox” format will do nicely), store it on encrypted media, and replicate the storage so that you have your OWN backups. (A set of Truecrypted 64G USB sticks should suffice nicely. Keep one in a safety deposit box, one at home, one at work. Or whatever.)

This provides you with access, replication, privacy, security, and a good degree of future-proofing.

GEMont (profile) says:

Hurry up and wait!

This is a fight that’s been going on for over a decade, and with more than half the House supporting it, how much longer can Congressional leadership ignore it?

Well that’s hard to say. How long does it take to gather enough dirt on the half of the House that supports it and get those blackmail letters out to them?

Congressional Leaders will ignore it till the day after the other half of the house drops their support, naturally.

Then boom! Fast Track.

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