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Run Privacy Upgrade — It's Time for Congress to Update ECPA

The outdated act goes against our Fourth Amendment rights.
Nicole Ozer,
Technology & Civil Liberties Director, ACLU of Northern California
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May 5, 2010

Today, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties is holding its first hearing to discuss the woefully outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act. (Did we mention that it was written in 1986?!)

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution was designed to protect the privacy of our personal information. Unfortunately, innovation has far outpaced the electronic privacy laws passed by Congress, leaving us in a world of grey areas, loopholes, and inadequate protections that simply don't match our modern world.

The ACLU submitted testimony calling on Congress to modernize ECPA in the following ways:

  • Protect Personal Information. The government shouldn't be able to get personal electronic information (like email, online documents, and search records) without a warrant, just like they can't enter your home and take your personal papers without a warrant.
  • Safeguard Location Information. Cell phones transmit your location, but your cell phone shouldn't be used as a personal tracking device without a warrant. The government should need a warrant to access sensitive location information.
  • Prohibit Use of Illegally Obtained Information. If the government breaks the law, shouldn't there be consequences? Law enforcement shouldn't be able to use electronic information obtained illegally.
  • Require Transparency Around Information Collection. The law should require notice and regular reporting so you know when and why companies turn over your private information to the government.
  • Craft Reasonable Exceptions. Exceptions to the procedural requirements for government access to electronic records should be just that — exceptional. The law should have reasonable emergency exceptions and require documentation and reporting to ensure that these exceptions are not abused.

We look forward to working with Congress to modernize ECPA and bring privacy protections into the 21st century. It's time to demand a privacy upgrade! Please join us and tell Congress to update ECPA.

And to remember just how much has changed since ECPA was written in 1986, watch our new Demand your dotRights video at!

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