Prospects of ECPA Reform

BY Ross Schulman
February 1, 2013

This past Monday was Data Privacy Day and to mark the occasion CCIA CEO Ed Black posted a piece to Huffington Post on the need for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which currently allows government access to email and other content stored with third parties online without the judicial protection of a warrant. That piece lays out two important reasons why the law ought to be updated. Fortunately, there are some rays of hope on the horizon. As we saw toward the end of last year, ECPA reform legislation cleared its first hurdle when it was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan vote. With the move into the 113th Congress, the process must begin again, but the road has been paved.

There is even better news that has come in the past month or so. The chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, which to date has not done as much as the Senate to tackle the question of ECPA reform, passed from Representative Smith to Representative Goodlatte. Mr. Goodlatte has indicated his support for reform of the law, and has stated that he’s met with Chairman Leahy on the issue and they agreed to take up the issue and “look at the reforms [they] might address.

The issue is also very much on the minds of people in Washington in the wake of the General Petreus scandal of late last year. It became obvious that investigators had accessed large quantities of private emails, using questionable processes, and all in apparent pursuit of some simple email harassment. General Petreus’ case did much to make people in Washington understand the questions surrounding ECPA and there is speculation that pressure from the fallout of the situation will lead to some ECPA reform.

In the midst of all of this, CCIA and the Digital Due Process Coalition continue our work of communicating with Congress, pushing for reforms, and making sure that the hard work we’ve already accomplished is not undermined by weakening the proposals in any way. It is our belief, and our hope, that real progress on the law is possible in 2013.

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