EFF petition: bring electronic privacy law into the 21st century, require warrants to read email, access cloud storage, track our phones

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is celebrating the White House's openness to public petitions with a plea to update the nation's electronic privacy law, which last saw major revision in 1986, and which has some pretty big loopholes:

The government should be required to go to a judge and get a warrant before it can read our email, access private photographs and documents we store online, or track our location using our mobile phones. Please support legislation that would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) to require warrants for this sensitive information and to require the government to report publicly on the use of its surveillance powers.

ECPA was forward-looking when it was signed into law in October of 1986, considering that the World Wide Web hadn't even been invented yet. But now, ECPA has become outdated. The privacy standards that it applies to new technologies are unclear and weak. For example, the law doesn't specifically address cell phone location tracking at all, and it allows the government to seize most emails without ever having to go to a judge. Meanwhile, no one is perfectly sure how it applies to newer online services like social networks and search engines.

This gap between the law and the technology ultimately leaves us all at risk. Add your name now to sign the petition supporting ECPA reform, and feel free to add a personalized intro to the text below that will be sent to your legislators before the 25th anniversary of ECPA.


      1. Unfortunately, there are many services which require a Facebook login/account. While I can choose not to use those services, I happen to believe that is a choice which shouldn’t be necessary. This is not about entitlement – it is about equality, even for those who value privacy.

        1. Could not agree more, I have also had google login as an option to facebook on some sites. Since I am going G-Free, that is also not an option anymore.

          If I can not get access by a simple email address, I will find another service/option/whatever.

          This could be a very opportune time to start a replacement for services that are making those requirements the only option.

  1. This is a really absurd request.   I’m supposed to write my representative, who is clueless about modern communications, and ask him to support some vague, nameless process the EFF calls “updating the ECPA”?

    What is needed here is for the EFF to draft an update to the ECPA, and present it as what they want.   *Then* ask me to support *that*.   Right now they’re basically asking me to support a non-effort that will likely never amount to anything, and if it does amount to something, probably will be about as useful as the recent patent reform effort.

    If we want better laws, we need to start writing them.

    1. Straight forward and well said.  The punks in D.C. don’t think any citizen can pull off the task of writing a proper law.  But we all know their real issue with that process might be that said law would favor the People over the individual interests of the career politicians who normally write laws.  

  2.  Perhaps – just perhaps – not EVERY one of our politicians is a hoser.  Here’s a letter I received from my local senator:

    “Thank you for contacting me regarding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).  I appreciate hearing from you.
    Let me begin by saying that I firmly believe that Americans have a right to protect their personal information, and I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to protect the privacy rights of all citizens.
    Congress originally passed the ECPA in 1986 to extend restrictions on the government’s ability to monitor certain private communications.  It made it a federal crime to capture the communications of others without court approval, unless one of the parties has given prior consent.  Violations of the law may result in hefty fines and prison time.
    I certainly understand your concern that the ECPA needs to be updated.  Constantly changing technology introduces us to new and quicker methods of communication every day.  It is important that Congress consider how these technologies will require updates to current laws. To that end, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act (S. 1011) on May 17, 2011. This legislation would create a clear legal standard for the protection of content in e-mails and require that the government obtain a search warrant before accessing consumer information stored with service providers.
    The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Although I do not serve on the committee, I will keep your thoughts in mind as the bill reaches the full Senate.
    I value the input of fellow Coloradans in considering the wide variety of important issues and legislative initiatives that come before the Senate.  I hope you will continue to inform me of your thoughts and concerns.
    For more information about my priorities as a U.S. Senator, I invite you to visit my website at http://bennet.senate.gov/.  Again, thank you for contacting me.
    Michael Bennet
    United States Senator”

    So at least the fellow has his staff up to date on this problem.  I may not agree with his position, but he appears aware.  My other folks shot back totally generic blobs of worthlessness that show they don’t care.

    the FiatRN
    Denver, CO

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