Renewed Call for ECPA Reform

By Elizabeth Holland

AALL has joined more than 80 privacy advocacy and tech groups on two new letters urging immediate action on Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) reform. Addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the letters call on the leadership to bring their chambers’ ECPA reform bills to the floor, where we believe they will pass overwhelmingly. Both bills (H.R. 1852, S. 607) have stalled in Congress recently, despite widespread support from lawmakers; in the House, more than a majority of Representatives are listed as co-sponsors of the legislation.

As the letters read, “updating ECPA would respond to the deeply held concerns of Americans about their privacy” without impeding law enforcement. H.R. 1852 and S. 607 would make clear that the warrant standard of the Constitution applies to private digital information just as it applies to physical property, eliminating the outdated discrepancy that affords data stored in the cloud less protection than data stored locally.

Importantly, this legislation guarantees Americans’ full constitutional and statutory protections for electronic communications like text messages, emails, photographs, and documents stored online. The only resistance to ECPA reform comes from civil regulatory agencies seeking an exception to allow them to obtain the content of customer communications directly from third party service providers.  Such a carve out would expand government power, as government regulators currently cannot compel service providers to disclose their customers’ communications.  The coalition any rules that would treat private data differently depending on the type of technology used to store it.

AALL urges Congressional leadership to bring H.R. 1852 and S. 607 to a vote now. We strongly support these proposed reforms to ECPA, which ensure important protections to the privacy of library users and appropriately balance the government’s interest in protecting national security with the protections of privacy and freedom from government surveillance the Constitution requires.

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