Today ARL is joining a nationwide day of action calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows the US government to access e-mail and documents in the cloud without a warrant.
ECPA is an outdated law, enacted in 1986 before most people had access to a home computer or e-mail. ECPA permits hundreds of government agencies—such as the IRS, FBI, and DEA, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies—to access stored e-mail, private social media messages, and documents in the cloud without obtaining a warrant. The law is in direct opposition to Fourth Amendment values; in fact, many companies have fought back and now demand warrants before turning over customers’ communications.
As libraries and universities move key services into the cloud, it is absolutely crucial that private information about what people read, what research they do, who they’re talking to, and what they’re interested in remains private. ECPA means that the research files and records that used to be protected by a warrant when they lived in a folder in a desk drawer are suddenly no longer protected now that that information is stored in a virtual folder online. This is an absurd result and it is crucial to change the law to bring online privacy into line with libraries’ expectations.
Bills to reform ECPA have gained substantial support in recent months from both parties in Congress; however, legislation is now being blocked by a proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is pushing for a special carve-out for regulatory agencies to obtain documents from online providers without a warrant. The SEC carve-out would neuter ECPA reform. It would mean that documents and communications in the cloud continue to be second-class citizens with little privacy protection from government agencies.
ARL and many others are calling on the White House to break its silence and stand up for ECPA reform. We ask you to join us by signing this petition to the White House no later than Wednesday, December 11.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. Its 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/.