ECPA: Leahy, Senate committee finally update email privacy law, require warrant.

The fine folks in Washington have decided it might be about time to update the law that lets cops read your old emails, Facebook photos, and other stored electronic communications without a warrant. You know, the one that was passed 26 years ago, before most people even had email, let alone Facebook.

In a surprising bout of common sense, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning voted in favor of an overhaul of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, or ECPA. The changes, authored by committee chair Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, would require authorities to show probable cause that you’ve committed a crime before they can go snooping through all your online personal information. As it stands, any personal information you have in the cloud—like Gmail messages, Flickr photos, files saved on Dropbox—becomes fair game for law enforcement to acquire from your Internet service provider once it’s been stored for six months or more. If the same information were on your hard drive or printed out, police would need a warrant to obtain it.

via ECPA: Leahy, Senate committee finally update email privacy law, require warrant..


7 thoughts on “ECPA: Leahy, Senate committee finally update email privacy law, require warrant.

  1. I’m very surprised that this law was allowed to exist for so long. I honestly had no idea that law enforcement could legally look at all my data online without any kind of warrant or permission. It seems like a violation of the fourth amendment, because it seems like unreasonable search and seizure to just go through my private data like that. A law like this that violates the fourth amendment and is a large invasion of personal privacy should not be allowed. For how bad this law is I’m really surprised I had never heard of it. I think more people should have been upset about a law like this were law enforcement is legally allowed to snoop into your private data without any kind of warrant. I’m not sure why more people don’t know about this law or talk about this law but it is interesting this is the first time I’m even hearing about this.
    I’m very glad the law changed to only allow law enforcement to look into your information if they can prove probably cause you have committed a crime. This seems like a fair comprise because it allows law abiding citizens to feel like their information is a lot some what private, which is important. But it also always law enforcement to use the information to catch potential criminals. Also learning about this law I’m curious what other old laws on out there that violate my privacy that I don’t know about.

    1. I agree with Alex’s post, because I, too, did not realize this outdated law was still active. It makes sense that the police would have to have probable cause to gain access to your personal information from a third party server if they would have to have a warrant to get this information from your own personal hard drive. I am surprised that this is the first I’m hearing about this, but I suppose that, like most of the population, I didn’t realize that this law from 26 years ago was still in existence and being followed. Technology changes so fast that it is hard to believe the laws governing it do not. This article proves that we must stay current with what is happening with technology and not assume what we think is logical. I think that letting officials go through your personal information just because they can is unethical and could allow them to make a case against you, even if that was not their intention in the first place. By enforcing the probable cause rule it protects the user a little more against wrongful invasions of privacy. It is upsetting that this law was in effect for 26 years, but I am glad that it is being revised.

  2. While I agree with the posts above I feel that the article undermines how data is tracked on the web. For example, it listed that the government can have access to Gmail after it has been stored online for six plus months. However, Gmail already monitors and analyses the email for Google. Of course the data is stripped of personal data, but nonetheless your data is still being stored. Now the article clearly states that this is not going to happen for some time and that the Senate does not plan to vote until after 2013. Meanwhile there is literally a countdown clock on CNN for this fiscal cliff doom, Congress has their hands tied right now. Even if this amendment gets passed, the definition of “probable cause” is very broad and could literally include anything that someone does over the internet. I feel that even though the argument “I have nothing to hide” puts us on a slippery slope, it puts people in the right mindset. If people are vigilant with their data they post on the internet, then there should be nothing to worry about. And this does not even include what the Patriot Act authorizes.

  3. I find it interesting that there is a difference between your hardrive on your physical computer and the information you store online through third party services. This law definitely needs to be updated because I don’t see where the difference is. I would expect google and other companies that make their money off of me using there services to protect its users. The information stored on my gmail account is my personal information and I believe any law enforcement group should need a warrant to access that.

  4. This seems like a no nonsense issue that we can easily agree on, although I don’t think revoking power will be very easy. While the notion of a warrant makes any issue less opaque, I don’t think very many authority figures care to take that path to obtaining this sort of information. Furthermore, it is hypocritical for a government to demand privacy from corporations using personal data and not have the same expectations for itself.

  5. I think that this is a very obvious thing that needed to be done and honestly cannot believe that it was not already the case that they had to get a warrant. It seems for once that our privacy is not being taken away but protected as it should be. Facebook messages and other conversations that you have had are private information and should not be freely accessible by anyone without a warrant. I do not think there is much else that needs to be said, good job Patrick Leahy!

  6. I’m in heavy support of adjusting this so that permission or probable cause would need to be obtained before any investigating could be sought after. I’m surprised that this wasn’t required before now, to be honest. I consider email and even Facebook messages to be extremely private medians of communication. At a level of privacy that I would consider very close to searching a house, which obviously requires a warrant.

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