This morning, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee heard key administration officials testify about the statute that governs law enforcement access to private information held electronically by third parties. Several leading lawmakers are currently working to bring this law—the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)—into the information age so that it reflects Americans’ reasonable privacy expectations in the era of webmail, mobile services, cloud computing and the like.
TechFreedom has led, in conjunction with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Americans for Tax Reform‘s Digital Liberty Project, a coalition of leading free market public interest in a letter to the committee voicing their strong support for overhauling the quarter-century-old ECPA. The coalition—also including FreedomWorks, the Campaign for Liberty, the Washington Policy Center, Liberty Coalition, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, and Less Government—is urging Congress to extend traditional Fourth Amendment protections to Internet-based “cloud” and mobile location services while preserving the building blocks of law enforcement investigations.
The coalition letter explains that framers of the Bill of Rights ratified the Fourth Amendment to protect individuals from unreasonable, unwarranted searches and seizures by government officials. But since courts have not consistently applied these Constitutional protections to private information stored with cloud and mobile providers, many Americans’ private information is vulnerable to warrant-less access by law enforcement. To remedy this, the letter proposes four reforms to ECPA that would resolve legal ambiguities and affirm Constitutional protections by establishing electronic privacy standards that are consistent with the Fourth Amendment.
“Major decisions regarding the future architecture of cloud computing are being made right now,” explains the letter, calling for urgent action. “If Congress fails to enact ECPA reform, cloud computing services may be designed to rely on servers outside the U.S. Not only would this harm U.S. competitiveness, it could also, ironically, deny U.S. law enforcement access to cloud data—even with a lawful warrant.”
Read the full coalition letter here or below.
For more on ECPA reform, see the September 2010 congressional statement submitted to the U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees by several free market public interest groups.