Today, April 13, 2016, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to pass the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699), a bill to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), during markup of the bill. ECPA, a law passed 30 years ago, has not kept pace with evolving technologies and denies important privacy protections for electronic communications, allowing government agencies to access documents or communications stored online without obtaining a warrant. This outdated law has led to an absurdity that affords greater protection to hard-copy documents than digital communication.
The Email Privacy Act has enjoyed overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, with 314 cosponsors. The Senate version of the bill, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2015 (S. 356), has also enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.
As libraries and universities move services into the cloud and more communications take place online, it is critical that the Fourth Amendment protect information long considered to be private—including what individuals are reading or researching, and to whom they are talking—even in the digital world. The growth of the Internet has launched new forms of communications and changed the way that individuals interact since ECPA’s enactment in 1986. ECPA reform would impose a warrant-for-content standard, ensuring that Fourth Amendment protections extend to online documents.
While the Manager’s Substitute circulated by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on April 8 removes key provisions of the Email Privacy Act as originally proposed by Representative Kevin Yoder (R-KS), including a section that would have required law enforcement officials to notify targets of investigations when warrants are served, the bill updates ECPA significantly by imposing a warrant-for-content standard. The time for reform is long overdue and ARL applauds the House Judiciary Committee in moving forward, passing the Email Privacy Act through the committee with a unanimous 28-0 vote.
About the Association of Research Libraries
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.