Congress Must Pass Email Privacy Act

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) sponsored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.). The Competitive Enterprise Institute strongly supports this legislation, which would amend the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to require that the government obtain a warrant, based on a showing of probable cause, to compel a cloud computing provider to divulge the contents of a user’s private electronic communications. The Email Privacy Act enjoys strong bipartisan support, with well over 300 House cosponsors—a majority of House Republicans and Democrats.

Yesterday, CEI joined dozens of public interest groups, companies, and activists in a coalition letter urging members of Congress to vote for H.R. 699. Reforming ECPA isn’t a new priority for CEI. We first urged Congress to rewrite the statute in written testimony to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in 2010.

Existing law doesn’t adequately protect Americans from warrantless searches of their private data stored with cloud and mobile providers. Congress must make clear that law enforcement cannot access users’ private information—such as stored emails and backup files—without showing probable cause or even notifying users that the government has accessed their private data. The Email Privacy Act would protect Americans’ privacy by making clear that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects the “right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures,” applies in the digital world.  

Modernizing decades-old privacy laws is essential if the cloud computing revolution is to realize its full potential. Innovators that offer electronic communications services must be able to maintain trustworthy relationships with their users. By closing gaps in legal protection, Congress can restore Americans’ individual liberties in the digital age and ensure the Internet remains a powerful engine of economic growth, while preserving the tools necessary for effective law enforcement.