November 2011 Archives

ECPA Reform -- Keeping the momentum

Reforming government takes a long time, it rarely happens overnight. It can often takes years of negotiation, grassroots campaigning, and lobbying to effect change. That's our system, for better or worse. Right now, one such issue working its way through the process is reforming the 25-year old, and very stale, Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986. Over the past year, there has been substantial activity around the issue. Big companies and advocacy groups from both the left and right have come together to demand updates to the electronic surveillance laws. The laws no longer work with our current technological environment and offer very little privacy protection to individuals. It also puts companies who handle  information in difficult positions: protecting consumer data or disclosing information to government without clear guidelines. Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has put together a great primer on the history of ECPA, the privacy concerns, the technological changes that have occurred since 1986, and why reform is needed.

Over a year ago, there was a a lot of activity around ECPA reform, including a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee and Google helping form the Digital Due Process Coalition. The coalition is comprised of many big tech companies and advocacy groups "[t]o simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA standards, providing stronger privacy protections for communications and associated data in response to changes in technology and new services and usage patterns, while preserving the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws, respond to emergency circumstances and protect the public." Additional background from Alex Howard at O'Reilly Radar.

ECPA reform has made its way into the Congressional records with draft legislation put forward. On May 17, 2011 Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a bill to modernize and update the ECPA titled Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2011 (PDF) (S. 1011).

CDT has recently formed a group of both left and right organizations to support a petition for privacy law reform, specifically targeting ECPA. The site, "Not Without A Warrant" allows individuals to electronically sign the petition and add their voice to the reform movement.

PrivacyWonk has signed the Not Without A Warrant petition. Will you?