In April we launched "Who Has Your Back", a campaign calling on major Internet companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft to stand with their users when it comes to government demands for users’ data. Today, we’re pleased to see that two of the thirteen companies highlighted in our petition, Apple and Dropbox, have agreed to one of our requests: that they stand up for user privacy in Congress by joining the Digital Due Process coalition.
Digital Due Process is a diverse coalition of privacy advocates like EFF, ACLU and the Center for Democracy & Technology and major companies like AT&T, eBay and Comcast that has come together with the shared goal of modernizing surveillance laws for the Internet age. The DDP coalition is especially focused on pressing Congress to update the woefully-outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act or "ECPA."
ECPA was passed by Congress in 1986, before the World Wide Web was even invented and when cell phones were still a rarity. Yet to this day, ECPA is the primary law governing how and when law enforcement can access personal information and private communications stored by communications providers like Google, Facebook, your cell phone company or your ISP.
Unfortunately, ECPA is weak, confusing, and outdated. For example, it doesn’t specifically address location information at all, which has led to years of fighting in the courts about whether or not the government needs a search warrant to track your cell phone. Meanwhile, whether or not ECPA requires the government to get a warrant before seizing private communications content like your emails and IM chats turns on absurd factors like how old the messages are and, according to the Justice Department, whether or not you’ve read them yet. Frighteningly, the government also seems to think that the privacy of your search history stored with Google or Yahoo! or Microsoft’s Bing isn’t protected by ECPA at all.
It’s past time that Congress gave ECPA a much-needed digital upgrade so that it better fits the always-on, location-enabled technological landscape of the 21st century. That’s why DDP is pushing for amendments to ECPA to ensure that the government can’t track your cell phone or obtain your online content—like your private emails, social network messages, photos, search history, word processing documents and backup files—without first going to court to get a search warrant based on probable cause.
Since DDP launched last Spring, our efforts have prompted serious discussion in Washington, D.C. about the need to reform ECPA, with Congress holding five hearings on the issue and introducing several bills that address some of the coalition’s recommendations. That was the first stage in the process of baking stronger and clearer privacy protections into the law. Now comes the harder part: actually getting a good bill passed by Congress and signed by the President.
As we enter that next phase in the fight for electronic privacy reform, it’s good to know that we’ll have Apple and Dropbox on our side. We’re especially pleased to have these new allies as we approach the 25th anniversary of ECPA’s passage on October 21st, which will be a focal point in our campaign to get a 21st century upgrade to our electronic privacy laws.
We’re updating our "Who Has Your Back" chart and awarding a gold star to both Apple and Dropbox for joining us in this effort.