Last December, over 100,000 Americans joined together to demand an end to warrantless searches of emails and other online data. 138 days later, we still haven’t gotten a response. To illustrate how important this issue is, we joined with dozens of other nonprofits to send this open letter to President Obama, asking for him to support efforts to reform ECPA:
Dear Mr. President,
We write today to urge you to support reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to guarantee that every American has full constitutional and statutory protections for the emails, photos, text messages, and other documents that they send and share online.
Among many other protections, ECPA regulates how the government can access the contents of electronic communications. Unfortunately, the law governing electronic communications has not been substantially updated since 1986. Under the statute, e-mail, documents stored in the cloud, and other private communications like photos and text messages do not receive the protection of the requirement of a search warrant approved by a judge. A warrant based on the probable cause standard is required for searches of U.S. mail, searches of a home, or even electronic communications that are not stored with companies like Google or Yahoo.
There is bipartisan legislation in the Senate and the House, S. 607 and H.R. 1852, which would make a simple fix to the law, by assuring that, regardless of where individuals store their communications, those communications searches will meet the constitutional probable cause standard and be safe from unjust government intrusion.
Updating our electronic privacy laws has enormous popular and political support. 100,000 Americans signed a petition in November 2013 urging your support for ECPA reform. That petition has still not received a response. More than 200 members of the House of Representatives have cosponsored H.R. 1852. The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted S. 607 out of committee on a voice vote. More than 100 privacy and consumer groups, companies, and trade associations have joined a coalition to reform ECPA. Civil rights, media justice, and privacy groups have recently endorsed civil rights principles for big data that call for updating constitutional protections like ECPA when addressing new technologies.
Seemingly, the only major impediment to passage is an objection by administrative agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would like to gut the legislation as a way to expand their investigative authorities. Such an agency carve out would be a major blow to reform efforts, allowing increased government access to our communications during the many civil investigations conducted by federal and state agencies. Support from the Administration for strong ECPA legislation without an administrative loophole would be an important step toward removing this roadblock.
You have a rare opportunity to work with Congress to pass legislation that would advance the rights of almost every American. Please act now to support meaningful privacy reform. Thank you.
American Civil Liberties Union
Center for Democracy and Technology
See the full letter for a complete list of signatories.