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Public Interest Groups Urge Update of Email Privacy Protections

This week, CEI joined dozens of public interest groups, trade associations, and companies in sending a letter to Congress in support of the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 387). The bill, an earlier version of which passed the House of Representatives by a unanimous vote in April 2016, 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. This would remedy a shortfall in the existing law, which doesn’t adequately protect Americans from warrantless searches of their private data stored with cloud and mobile providers

We’ve long urged Congress to modernize the 31-year-old ECPA. In 2010, for instance, CEI submitted written testimony to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees explaining why Congress should pass ECPA reform. As we explained, “[r]equiring that law enforcement obtain a search warrant from a judge upon a showing of probable cause before rifling through the contents of our electronic communications and digital documents … would extend the protections of the Fourth Amendment to our digital ‘papers and effects.’”

As I wrote on these pages last year, 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.

For more congressional reform ideas, see the technology and telecommunications chapter of Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 115th Congress