Tech Giants Urge Congress To Consider ECPA Updates

Today, September 10th, 2014, letters went to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) supporting Electronic Communications Privacy Act Reform. The letters were signed by some 74 tech businesses including big names like Microsoft and Google, and advocacy groups from all sides of the political spectrum. Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty urge both the House and the Senate to pass this legislation before November. 

In the current iteration of ECPA (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act), information stored locally is afforded more protection from government access than information stored in the cloud (i.e. emails, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox). The Yoder-Polis bill (H.R 1852) and the Leahy-Lee (S. 607) bill are aimed at preserving the privacy of Americans who store information in the cloud. 

As it stands, a warrant would be required for access to your home computer and the files stored there, but the rules about needing a warrant for your emails or Facebook posts are quite a bit murkier under ECPA. The lack of guaranteed security from warrantless snooping by the government understandably makes people wary of using services that would store their information in the cloud, and with many consumers valuing their privacy more than the convenience of the cloud, the companies who provide those services lose much of their incentive to innovate.

H.R. 1825 and S. 607 seek to bolster online security by affording cloud data the same protection as data stored locally. This protects the privacy of law-abiding Americans, while still allowing the Department of Justice to execute legal warrants. Furthermore, ECPA reform would prevent the SEC from circumventing the legal process and gaining direct access to private content held by communications service providers, a civil infringement that would further intrude upon American privacy. There is no reason for a different standard of privacy to be applied to what we store on our own computers as opposed to what we store in the cloud with the expectation that we are allowed to choose who sees it.