The Electronic Computer Privacy Act (ECPA) is scheduled for markup tomorrow, Thursday, November 29th, in the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC). Originally enacted in 1986 as a means of addressing telephonic wiretapping, at a time when technology was less complex and the Internet had not yet become a ubiquitous means of communication, ECPA is no longer adequate to protect the privacy of email and other digital communications. Reform is necessary to insure that the same legal requirements that protect the privacy of physical letters and packages are extended to electronic mail and the digital applications that store and transmit our data.
But reopening the ECPA for review and improvement has provided an opportunity for legislators and law enforcement agencies to propose provisions that would eliminate or weaken any privacy protections for electronic communications. One such proposal would allow federal agencies to obtain an individual’s email without a search warrant. Members of the Senate – particularly Senators serving on the Judiciary Committee – need to hear that we value our privacy and want ECPA reform that preserves and enhances Fourth Amendment protections for electronic communications, rather than removes those protections.
ACTION ALERT: Defend online privacy! Use this online tool to send an email to your Senators or call them directly and ask them to preserve our Constitutional rights by updating ECPA.
DOES YOUR SENATOR SERVE ON THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE? Check this full list of senators on the Judiciary Committee and their office phone numbers. If your senator is on the list, please make a call!
THE MESSAGE: Senators should vote for more privacy protections and oppose amendments that would expose the public to greater monitoring and surveillance without the appropriate subpoenas or warrants.
Like a book’s cover, the title of this bill does not reflect the grave threats to privacy rights inherent to proposed “reforms.” The discussions are even more complex and confusing because stakeholders, like the American public, have initially only heard about potential amendments and other rumored amendments that may not be made. For further background and key provisions, visit our VanishingRights webpage. None of us have the full picture of this bill at this writing. (Bill number may be S. 1011.)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU? The statute says the government can read a lot of your most personal communications and online activities without a warrant.
WHY ARE LIBRARIES CONCERNED? The library community has long standing principles committed to protecting the privacy of library users based upon the principle that the government and others have no right to access what people read – or now, where they go on the Internet. If law enforcement need such access, ALA argues that some kind of judicial due process – including a warrant requirement – must be in place.
If ECPA reform does not pass in this Congress, which has little time left, it will be reintroduced in the next Congress. It is important to make our position clear now.
As argued by members of the Vanishing Rights Coalition: “We are simply asking for ALL of our personal information to have the SAME Constitutional protections regardless of how we choose to store it. “