Last Updated on May 17, 2011, 7:56 pm ET
On Tuesday, May 17, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would update the privacy protections currently available for Internet communications such as email. Under current law — the Electronic Communication Privacy Act, written by Senator Leahy in 1986 — material stored in the cloud, including email, loses much of its privacy protection after it has been stored for 180 days. Government agents can gain access to this information without a standard 4th Amendment-required warrant.
Claudia wasn’t worried about the privacy of her Gmail account back in 1986, and neither was Congress.
Leahy’s bill would do away with this arbitrary expiration date, replacing it with a uniform standard for all stored communications: no access to content without a warrant supported by probable cause. In addition, Leahy’s bill would require law enforcement agents to notify the owner that her communications were being accessed subject to a warrant, and provide a copy of the warrant.
The bill embodies several recommendations made by the Digital Due Process coalition, of which ARL is a member. However, the bill is not perfect. For example, although it requires a warrant for real-time tracking of someone’s location using cell phone data, it does not require a warrant for retrospective location information. Still, the bill represents significant improvement over the status quo, and we welcome this improvement.