“Changing the law has become more of an imperative because of the growth of cloud computing, because everyone including members of Congress are storing sensitive info with third-party providers and they want it to be protected.”
— Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology, on the update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which the Senate Judiciary Committee passed today. (As the New York Times points out, the Center for Democracy and Technology is financed partly by Silicon Valley tech companies, which support the push to update ECPA.) The update to the law calls for the government and law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants when accessing email and other electronic communications. (Ideally, that should include the IRS; the ACLU recently said it obtained documents that suggest the tax agency was reading emails without warrants.) As we’ve written before, supporters of the update include the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and libertarian Grover Norquist. Tech companies support ECPA because for one thing, it would make clearer what they should do about granting access to the user information they store in the cloud. Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, last month testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee about the need for an ECPA update. From his written testimony: “The inconsistent, confusing, and uncertain standards” under ECPA show “how the law fails to preserve the reasonable privacy expectations of Americans today.” A similar push in the House, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, last month, is called the Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act. It also brings location data under the warrant-needed umbrella. Updating the ECPA could also affect the access to electronic communications in civil cases, such as corporate litigation and divorces, the NYT points out.
Photo of Patrick Leahy, author of the ECPA of 1986 as well as the law to update it, by Getty Images