Access to Your Email Without a Warrant: Updating ECPA For the Digital Age
“It sounded like a good idea at the time…”
When the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was passed in 1986, it aimed to set standards for law enforcement access to digital communications and privacy protections for users like us. Reasonable enough.
But time passed. Innovation in computing and Internet access progressed more quickly than anyone could have ever imagined, and policymakers struggled to keep up with a basic understanding of how the online tools that we use to shape our personal and office communications actually work.
As a result, we have a law that’s more outdated than one of these:
(In case you were wondering, that’s a pager.)
The patchwork quilt of standards that were modern in the mid ‘80′s are now woefully outdated – and an affront to even the most basic of our civil liberties.
Here’s how bad it is:
- An email can be accessed without a warrant just because a message is over 180 days old. That dorky first email your partner sent you asking you out on a date six months ago and you’ve saved out of nostalgia? It’s open season for law enforcement!
- Location information usage is ambiguous. ECPA does not have a clear policy on law enforcement access to your location data. With more and more apps and website relying on your position to serve you up localized content and directions on where you need to go, this is clearly a treasure trove of information waiting to be discovered without your consent.
Luckily, Congress can make this right by moving legislation to fix ECPA forward. A large, bipartisan majority in the House (280+!) is already on board with a bill that would do just that — a rare feat for any piece of legislation on Capitol Hill.
The Email Privacy Act — sponsored by Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — is now the most popular bill in the House to not earn a vote.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Demand Progress members are continuing to put the pressure on their legislators and Congressional leadership — and you can, too!