ECPA Petition Urges Reform

September 27, 2011

CCIA has been deeply involved for a long time in efforts to convince Congress to give the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) the attention it deserves. ECPA, written in 1986, dictates under what circumstances the government may demand a person’s information when it is stored online. The law predates much of what we know as the Internet today, such as social networking, cloud computing, and mobile technology. While Congress did the best it could with what was known at the time, the law is now showing its age in serious ways.

For example, ECPA allows the government to demand access to emails that are older than 180 days without producing a warrant based on probable cause. Emails younger than 180 days, on the other hand, require a warrant. This seemingly arbitrary distinction may have made sense in 1986, but only causes confusion today.

Similarly, ECPA does not address the question of access to records regarding location, as there was no need in the mid-80s. Today, of course, most Americans carry with them a mobile telephone that is constantly updating the service provider with its location. The changes in technology over the past 25 years require a similar changes in the law in order to avoid disconnects between people’s expectations and reality.

That is why CCIA has been heavily involved in the Digital Due Process Coalition, which is a group of companies, industry associations, academics, and non-profits advocating for ECPA reform.

It is also why we want to highlight today this petition put together by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Simply put, it outlines two basic proposals: the government should have to get a warrant before it reads any content stored online, and also before tracking peoples’ location through their mobile phones.

These are straightforward ideas that will be good for business, and more importantly, perfectly track with everyday expectations of privacy in the modern age. CCIA will be signing the petition. We encourage all of our readers to do the same.

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