Bills to reform the outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) were reintroduced on February 4, 2015, in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate with bipartisan support. The bills would update ECPA and provide important privacy protections for electronic communications. ECPA, a law passed in 1986, has not kept pace with evolving technologies and permits agencies to access documents or communications stored online that are older than 180 days without a warrant. ECPA has led to an absurdity that affords greater protection to hard-copy documents than electronic communications.
The House version of the ECPA reform bill, known as the Email Privacy Act, was introduced by Representatives Yoder (R-KS) and Polis (D-CO) and already has 228 co-sponsors. In the last Congress, the House version attracted 270 co-sponsors. The Senate version, known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act, was introduced by Senators Lee (R-UT) and Leahy (D-VT).
After 29 years since ECPA’s passage, the time for reform is long overdue. Congress should pass these bills updating ECPA to ensure that Fourth Amendment protections apply in today’s digital world. (See more on ARL’s support of ECPA reform over the past year.)
This article originally appeared in a February 5, 2015, ARL Policy Notes blog post by Krista Cox.