It's Time To Update Our Privacy Laws: Tell Your Elected Officials To Reform ECPA Now

from the about-time dept

We've written a few times about the urgent need to reform ECPA -- the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which is woefully outdated, having passed in 1986. Of course, every time there's an attempt to reform it, it seems to fail, often because folks in law enforcement like the outdated law that lets them easily spy on others without a warrant. The latest attempt at ECPA reform is a mostly good proposal from Senator Leahy that (as expected) has law enforcement types livid. The crux of the reform is that law enforcement would need to get a warrant for most situations if they wanted to peer into your electronic lives. That seems entirely consistent with that quaint concept sometimes referred to as the Fourth Amendment.

Last week there was some buzz about a possible manager's amendment from Leahy that would open the door to various federal agencies being able to issue subpoenas without having to get warrants, but Leahy has since insisted that he will introduce no such amendment. Whether it was because of the outcry about it, or if it was never really intended, is a point of some debate. But, either way, the outcry did make some impact -- though not enough. There are still rumors of similar privacy destroying amendments from other Senators at the markup, which is slated for this upcoming Thursday.

In particular, it is expected that Senator Chuck Grassley is planning to sell out the 4th Amendment by offering an amendment even worse than the one discussed last week. It would take away the requirement for a warrant for many more federal agencies. Apparently, Senator Grassley thinks that the whole requirement of warrants based on probable cause before searches can take place is a recommendation, rather than the law of the land.

Given that, a bunch of groups and organizations have teamed up to set up, a site asking people to contact your Senator today, especially if they're on the Senate Judiciary Committee (list, with phone numbers, is on the website), to let them know that (a) you support ECPA reform that requires a warrant and (b) you oppose any amendment, such as Senator Grassley's that would take away that warrant requirement. The website has tools for emailing, but also phone numbers and a possible script for calling. If you can, I highly recommend that you call rather than email, as it has a much stronger impact.

If you believe that privacy matters, and that your electronic documents deserve the basic privacy that a warrant provides, rather than just letting law enforcement sniff through your emails freely, now is the time to speak up.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Zakida Paul (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 8:40am

    To be fair, it doesn't matter what protections you put in place. The authorities will still be able to do what they want by invoking 'national security' under your Patriot Act.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2012 @ 9:01am

    'If you believe that privacy is the time to speak up.'

    not that anyone will take any notice. we all know what politicians are like. they will sell their souls if it is going to get them into the spotlight, especially if there is something beneficial coming to them!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Michael, Nov 26th, 2012 @ 9:26am


    Politicians care most about votes. They can be swayed by public opinion if there is enough support for something to make or break keeping their job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 9:33am


    Still waiting on that 'sad but true' button for posts like these...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 10:06am


    Well, it depends on what authorities you're talking about. Additional protections do add some protection -- even if only from local agencies.

    Also, the cultural statement is important. It's one thing for an agency to be able to work around the clear intent of the law through hijinks like claiming "national security". It's an entirely different thing to write the law so that no workaround is necessary at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 10:27am

    Re: Re:

    Politicians care most about votes.
    Perhaps I'm cynical but it appears that politicians care most about cash because until they have piles and piles of it to run a campaign they are in no position to care about votes anyway.
    Public opinion can and might work but it looks an uphill struggle from where I'm standing, especially when "public opinion" tends to be strongly influenced by the mainstream media that supplies a fair chunk of the afore-mentioned cash.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    it appears that politicians care most about cash

    Yes, but why do they want that cash? Because cash is how you get votes. In the end, it's the votes they want, not the cash. The money is just the tool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    In the end, it's the votes they want, not the cash.
    You're more optimistic than I then. To me, politicians only seem to care about public opinion as far as it takes to look better in the mass media than the [arbitarily small number probably less than 3] other "people" that can raise the enormous sum of cash necessary to have any chance of beating them.
    I'm not saying this can't make a difference, perhaps sometimes even a huge one, but I haven't seen anything to convince me it's a prime motivation. Human nature suggests that a politician, whether corrupt or not, is more likely to pay attention to the one loud voice with a focussed argument weighted by the force of holding the purse strings for continued survival than the diffuse, quiet and even at it's most singular, self-contradictory voice of the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I agree with you, and what you're saying isn't counter to what I'm saying.

    The issue is that most voters don't vote rationally. They vote based on what tribe the candidates are members of, or whether they think they'd personally like the candidate, or what candidate makes them feel warm and fuzzy, and so forth.

    All of these things can be easily influenced through advertising. The cash buys the advertising, which means it buys the votes.

    Politicians give more weight to the ones that hold the money because the money is what gets them the votes. What voters are currently making a lot of noise about matters less than the amount of advertising a candidate can buy.

    Voter outrage isn't unimportant, and the best financed candidate doesn't always win. But money is the biggest player, and most of the time the biggest ad buyer is the victor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous, Nov 26th, 2012 @ 3:56pm

    That might make the problem worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Ken Artis (profile), Nov 26th, 2012 @ 7:05pm

    privacy on the net

    Two things that I don't understand. First, how did the post office miss out on e-mail? Second, why can't e-mail have the same privacy as First Class Mail? Recently one of the brightest people I have talked with in a long time said something along the lines of --- when politicians get involved with privacy on the net, there is going to be a problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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