Reform Battle Will Shift to Geolocation Privacy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Judiciary Committee will take a major step toward protecting the privacy of Americans’ emails. The Committee is set to markup the Email Privacy Act (HR 699). Sponsored by 315 Congressmen (73% of the House), this bipartisan bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before accessing Americans’ emails and other electronic communications stored in the “cloud.”

The bill amends the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which failed to protect data kept in the cloud for long periods — something a federal appeals court said, in 2010, violated the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Notably, the Email Privacy Act does not include an exemption from warrant requirements for the SEC, FTC, IRS and other federal agencies.

That’s one small step for privacy, one giant leap for the House Judiciary Committee,” said Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom. “Today’s reform means catching up, just barely, with the Internet of 2004 — the year when Gmail launched and ordinary Americans began storing their most personal communications in the ‘cloud.’ And it only took six years of the most sustained, bipartisan reform campaign the tech community has ever mounted! Now that the ball is finally rolling, expect a quick vote on the House floor and about the closest thing you’ll ever get to unanimity in that fractious chamber.”

It’s time the Senate stopped stalling,” urged Szoka. “It’s crazy that Senate Republicans have allowed regulatory agencies — the ones Republicans usually criticize — to obstruct a reform that simply brings digital privacy into compliance with basic constitutional principles — something Republicans usually champion. Swift passage isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also smart politics. Refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination has made it easy to portray Senate Judiciary Republicans as obstructionists. What better way to dispel that characterization than to pass what might be the most overwhelmingly bipartisan reform of the millennium?”

We can’t wait another six years for Congress to protect geolocation data — the other core part of ECPA reform,” concluded Szoka. “House Judiciary should immediately take up the two bipartisan geolocation bills, and send one to the floor. Republican leaders have a golden opportunity to demonstrate that they can govern effectively, protect constitutional values, and promote American business on the world stage. If they can’t see that, they should stop talking about ‘Internet Freedom’ — and cede the digital high ground to Democrats.”

Today, TechFreedom joined a coalition of over 50 civil society groups, trade associations and companies in support of the Manager’s Substitute Amendment to the Email Privacy Act. See the coalition letter here.

For more on ECPA reform, listen to Tech Policy Podcast #60: Email Privacy, Finally Happening?


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