Electronic Frontier Foundation Calls For Update To Archaic Email Privacy Law


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This article, compiled by activist April Glaser and attorney Nate Cardozo, was originally published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the 1986 law used by the government to access your online documents, messages, and emails stored in the cloud without a warrant.

ECPA is sorely outdated. It was enacted before web-based email became ubiquitous and “the cloud” meant only airborne water vapor. The law purports to allow for any opened emails or unopened emails left on a server for more than 180 days to be treated like abandoned property. Although the courts disagree, some agencies believe that ECPA allows law enforcement to access stored content with a mere subpoena. That interpretation created a senseless distinction—law enforcement was required to meet a much lower standard to access your saved webmail than the warrant standard that would be required if the same emails were printed and stored in your file cabinet. ECPA should not be used to bypass 4th Amendment protections that cover our personal email accounts, our social media messages, or anything else using cloud storage.

In the midst of the global outrage sparked by the 2013 revelations of warrantless NSA surveillance, we’ve also learned that the National Security Agency actively collaborates with the FBI and other government agencies to access private emails and Internet data stored by U.S. companies. Even if we are successful in reining in the NSA’s overly broad and unconstitutional surveillance, without ECPA reform other government agencies could still claim the legal authority to continue the massive collection of millions of innocent people’s personal communications and data without due process.

Bills to reform ECPA have gained huge bipartisan support. Earlier in the year, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to update our outdated electronic privacy law.  And now, a similar bill is being debated in the House. The problem is that government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission are asking for a special carve out permitting the agency to access email and data stored by Internet service providers without a warrant.  This exception, if granted, would completely undermine meaningful, and much needed, ECPA reform.

EFF is a member of the Digital Due Process coalition, a collection of tech companies, start-ups, privacy advocates, and think tanks working to update ECPA to ensure that laws continue to protect the rights of users as technologies advance and usage patterns evolve. Today, please join us in demanding for long-overdue updates to our archaic electronic privacy laws.

Speak out:

1. You can sign the White House Petition calling on the Obama Administration to reject agency demands for unjustified surveillance authority that would undermine critically needed ECPA reform. Check out the privacy policy of the White House site here.

2. You can send an email to your representatives in Congress using the EFF action center: Don’t Let Privacy Law Get Stuck in 1986: Demand s Digital Upgrade to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

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Electronic Frontier Foundation

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people's radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights. https://www.eff.org/

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