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ARL Joins Privacy Groups, Tech Industry To Support Key Online Privacy Reforms

Last Updated on May 19, 2020, 10:00 am ET

ARL is proud to be a part of Digital Due Process, a broad coalition of civil liberties and public interest groups (CDT, EFF, ACLU, and many others) as well as technology and telecommunications companies and associations (Google, AOL, Intel, AT&T, CCIA, and many more) that unveiled a new campaign today to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). The four principles for reform are posted on the DDP site, and can be summarized in one simple idea: the same standard of privacy that applies to documents stored in your home (i.e. the gov’t needs a search warrant based on probable cause to access them) should apply to your private data stored in the Internet “cloud.” In an earlier post, I’ve embedded a handy video that explains this idea.

The reader’s right to privacy and free inquiry has long been a central value for librarians. The Internet has already made reading habits easier to record and trace, and new services like Google Books and devices like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad are sure to move even more information about what we read out of our homes and onto servers in the cloud. ARL believes strongly that the move to new platforms does not change the fundamentally private nature of reading, nor should it abridge the First Amendment right to free inquiry.

An example of the concrete benefits of ECPA reform is its possible impact on the Google Books project. In our comments to the court, ARL, ALA, and ACRL pointed out that lack of privacy for readers could chill speech and discourage research. Ryan Radia from the Competitive Enterprise Institute expressed similar concerns to the court, but pointed out in a blog post earlier this month that reform of ECPA could alleviate them:

Instead of trying to persuade Congress, regulatory agencies, and the courts to regulate Google and other online providers, privacy advocates should focus on the underlying deficiencies in U.S. privacy laws. Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), many kinds of potentially sensitive user data can be obtained by government authorities with a mere subpoena, rather than a search warrant. Compounding this problem is the refusal of courts to extend Fourth Amendment protections to sensitive information stored in the cloud on the basis of the seriously flawed “third party doctrine” To remedy this, Congress should amend ECPA….

CEI is also a member of the DDP coalition.

This effort is only just beginning, and the short-term goal is merely to begin the necessary discussion with Congress and law enforcement. Expect to see hearings soon, but probably no legislation this year. Momentum is already starting to build, and it is sure to grow steadily in the coming months.