By CAGW, Special for USDR.
Today, as the world celebrates Data Privacy Day, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) pauses to remind Americans that our current laws do not fully protect private online communications from unwarranted seizure by government and law enforcement officials.
“Data Privacy Day is the perfect time to call upon our legislature to reform ECPA in order to guard Americans from unwarranted online government intrusion, and to protect their private communications.”
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was enacted in 1986, long before widespread use of the Internet. It has been 29 years since ECPA was enacted, and the world communicates in a dramatically different way than it did in 1986, storing an increasing amount of data digitally.
Unfortunately, ECPA does not prohibit access to user communications and information stored online without a warrant if the item had been marked “read” or opened, or if it is older than 180 days. In those cases, only a less-strict subpoena is required in order to read user emails as part of an investigation. However, because most users now store information and emails online with third party providers using cloud computing services, it makes little sense to treat this information differently based on whether the item’s status is marked as “read” or dated more than 180 days.
The U.S. Constitution prohibits the state from coming into homes and rifling through personal belongings without a warrant or a subpoena authorizing such a search. However, unless ECPA is amended, files stored online with cloud computing vendors, email service providers, and others may be subject to such unauthorized searches. Under ECPA’s current provisions, hundreds of federal entities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies, can demand access to emails and documents stored in the cloud without a warrant.
In the 113th Congress, bipartisan efforts were made to address glaring inadequacies in the law. Unfortunately, these efforts never made it to the floor for a vote in either the House or the Senate. It is long past time to address America’s digital liberties and extend the Fourth Amendment protections to emails and other electronic documents.
“The protection of Americans’ personal documents, emails, photos, and financial records stored in ‘the cloud’ should be a key concern for everyone,” stated CAGW President Tom Schatz. “Data Privacy Day is the perfect time to call upon our legislature to reform ECPA in order to guard Americans from unwarranted online government intrusion, and to protect their private communications.”
Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.