December 5, 2013
We’ve talked a lot about ECPA reform — which is the incredibly outdated “electronic communications privacy act” which actually makes sure that you have less privacy than other forms of communication. This isn’t necessarily on purpose, but because the law was written in the mid-1980s when email itself was a relatively new concept. It includes some bizarre distinctions between opened and unopened emails and if a message has been “left on a server” for more than 180 days (at which point it’s considered “abandoned” and not subject to a warrant). Obviously it never anticipated the kind of internet we have today. It also goes against basic 4th Amendment principles and treats electronic messages differently from physical messages.
There actually is a fair bit of support in both Congress and the White House to fix this… if we can get enough public support behind it, which includes getting more people to sign this petition. As with SOPA, there’s a strong suggestion that if this petition tips the scales at 100,000, we can get the White House to come out in favor of ECPA reform.
What’s standing in the way? Well, a bunch of government agencies, honestly. There are the obvious ones like the DOJ and DHS. That’s to be expected. They always want to make it easier to snoop through emails and written communications. But apparently some of the strongest voices trying to block ECPA reform within the government are coming from the SEC and the IRS, because they too see plenty of advantages in trying to snoop through emails without having to take the trouble of getting a warrant.
As I write this, I’m participating in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Chris Calabrese from the ACLU, Mark Stanley from the Center for Democracy and Technology and Julian Sanchez from the Cato Institute. This coincides with a day of action involving a bunch of companies and organizations trying to get more people to speak out on the importance of ECPA reform. And, finally, the folks at TechFreedom have put together a great infographic, which we’ve also embedded below.