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Congress Calls Up 1986

Nicole Ozer,
Technology & Civil Liberties Director, ACLU of Northern California
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October 19, 2011

This week, our federal online privacy law turns 25. The ACLU is hosting a blog series that will address some of the many reasons why the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) is in need of an upgrade! Spread the word using #UpdateECPA, and to learn more about your dotRights, visit

In honor of ECPA’s 25th birthday this week, Congress had the chance to walk down digital memory lane and see firsthand just how far technology has advanced since our federal electronic privacy law was last updated in 1986. Yesterday, the Digital Due Process coalition held a Retro Tech Fair to illustrate how far technology has come in 25 years.

Way back in 1986…Cell phones were the size of bricks. In this photo, ACLU Privacy Lobbyist Chris Calabrese models the Zack Morris phone.

In 1986, 5.25 inch floppy disks were still widely used — they could hold up to a whopping 0.5 MB.

And many of us who were born around 1986 played the game, Oregon Trail, on our Apple computers. Here is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) reliving old times.

And here is Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) checking out all the 1986 computers.

While folks packed the room for the fun walk down digital memory lane, the Retro Tech Fair had a serious side too — highlighting how our electronic privacy law is really stuck in the Digital Dark Ages.

Every time we chat, search, and connect online using all the great technology developed since 1986, we leave digital footprints about who we are, where we go, and what we do and believe. And the government is taking advantage of outdated digital privacy law to access this treasure trove of personal data — often without getting a search warrant.

Privacy law doesn’t auto-update. So, now that you have joined us on this walk down digital memory lane, join us in demanding a privacy upgrade. Tell Congress: It’s Time to Modernize Digital Privacy Law.

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