Congress Might Actually Be Moving Forward On Fixing Outdated Email Privacy Law!

from the didn't-see-that-coming dept

We've been talking about and asking for ECPA reform for many, many years, and it might finally be moving forward. ECPA is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which details how the government can get access to your electronic communications. The law was written in the early 1980s, and as you've probably noticed, we live in a very different world these days as it pertains to electronic communications. One key example: the law says that messages left on a server for more than 180 days are considered abandoned and can be searched without a warrant. That may have made some sense (though, not really) in a client-server era, where everyone downloaded their messages leading to them being deleted from a server, but it makes no sense at all in an era of cloud computing.

The main foes against updating ECPA have been government agencies that have investigatory powers, but not the ability to get a warrant -- mainly the SEC and the IRS, with the SEC being the real stumbling block. The SEC really liked the fact that it could snoop through emails without a warrant. So, even with massive support in Congress, ECPA reform never went anywhere.

So it was a bit surprising to folks this week to see Rep. Bob Goodlatte announce that the Judiciary Committee will now markup the ECPA reform bill, meaning that the bill is moving forward again. It's not entirely clear why it's happening now, but at the very least, it sounds like the SEC's constant protests may no longer be an obstacle. Hopefully it does move forward, and whatever results from the process leads to much stronger privacy protections on electronic communications, such as actually requiring a warrant, like the 4th Amendment says should happen.
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Filed Under: bob goodlatte, ecpa, ecpa reform, electronic communications, email, irs, judiciary committee, markup, sec, surveillance


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  1. icon
    tqk (profile), 5 Feb 2016 @ 5:08pm

    Re: It's all about "effects"

    To presume abandonment of server email after 180 days is like presuming abandonment of the contents of your safety deposit box (or your savings account) after 180 days.

    Consider IMAP or GMail (cloud computing). The whole point is to leave it on a server, because you want it left there. This law abuses modern practices egregiously by being stupid about it. It's been wrong for decades, and tenaciously avoiding learning the truth of what's actually happening in reality.

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