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New Bipartisan Bills Give Congress a Chance to Strengthen Email Privacy

DEEPLINKS BLOG
February 4, 2015

New Bipartisan Bills Give Congress a Chance to Strengthen Email Privacy

A pair of bills aimed at reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) were introduced in the United States Congress today. The bills, championed by Senators Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lee (R-Utah) and Representatives Yoder (R-Ks.) and Polis (D-Co.) focus on clarifying that the government must obtain a warrant before looking at email and other private online messages. EFF strongly supports this common sense reform.

And we're not the only ones. The bills are being supported by a strong bipartisan coalition with over 220 cosponsors in the House.

ECPA, which was written in 1986, is the core federal law protecting our electronic communications—including email, private Facebook messages, and Twitter direct messages—from prying eyes. But because of the statute's age, it has no provisions to deal with the way that the modern world uses cloud services and third-party providers for just about everything. Due to a provision in ECPA that assumes that users will download their messages to a desktop PC, and thereafter delete them from the server, the law has been used by the government to argue that emails older than 180 days can be obtained without a probable cause warrant.

In 2010, the Sixth Circuit ruled that, as written, this so-called "180-day rule" was unconstitutional. It's taken the Department of Justice (DOJ) years, but it's finally changing its tune. Now, even outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has publicly supported the so called "warrant for content" aspect of ECPA reform.

This is the third year running that bipartisan ECPA reform bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate. Last year, despite the fact that bills identical to those introduced today were passed out of committee in the Senate, and had more than 260 co-sponsors in the House, neither made it to a floor vote. Let's make 2015 the year that Congress finally reforms the 29-year-old Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Want to support ECPA reform? Send an email to Congress today.

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