The House is finally moving forward with updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), one of the main laws protecting the privacy of online communications. This year, The Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), which updates ECPA to ensure all of our private online messages are protected by a warrant, garnered 315 cosponsors, almost three-quarters of the entire House. This impressive number of cosponsors makes a powerful statement. And it’s why Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, scheduled a committee meeting on Wednesday to advance the bill.
Today, Rep. Goodlatte announced that he will be moving his own amendment to The Email Privacy Act through the House Judiciary Committee. While we would prefer the committee pass a clean version of the Email Privacy Act, we support Rep. Goodlatte’s amendment.
We also support any pro-privacy amendments like Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s Online Communication and Geolocation Protection Act (H.R. 656), or Rep. Jason Chaffetz's GPS Act, which require the government to obtain a warrant when demanding a person's geolocation; and a suppression remedy, which would allow the court in a criminal prosecution to throw out evidence that was obtained in violation of the law.
Rep. Goodlatte’s amendment makes both technical and substantive changes to ECPA, some good and some bad. Most importantly, the bill requires a warrant for all of our private online messages and other content stored in the cloud in criminal investigations. Unfortunately, the government no longer has to provide notice to users that it is seeking their online data from their service providers under Rep. Goodlatte's amendment. This is a dangerous shift in current law; however, we think it’s acceptable given that companies may continue to provide notice to users of government requests—something many companies commit to in our annual Who Has Your Back report.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up the bill with amendments and is expected to pass it through the committee. Afterward, the bill is expected to move forward with a final vote on the House floor in the coming months.
EFF has pushed for an update to ECPA for over 6 years as part of the Digital Due Process Coalition, which is comprised of civil society groups and companies like the ACLU, Google, and Facebook. We are proud to support Rep. Goodlatte in updating ECPA. And we urge the Senate to take up the amended bill and pass it without any changes once the full House votes on it.