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A Straight Answer on Warrants for Email from the Government? Not So Easy.

Our government is still refusing to confirm that warrants are necessary to access our private electronic records.
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April 8, 2011

The Senate Judiciary Committee met this week to hear testimony from Obama administration officials on upcoming plans to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). You remember ECPA? That bill passed in 1986 — before we had the World Wide Web — to protect your electronic records and which hasn’t been updated since?

Well, at the hearing two government officials — representing the Department of Commerce and Department of Justice — testified to the committee about what changes were needed to ECPA and what new authority the government needs/wants from any updates that Congress considers. The Department of Justice said they didn’t believe warrants should be necessary in many cases information such as emails, texts or phone location records and that the administration didn’t have a position. Not very reassuring.

Sadly and, not shockingly, our government is still refusing to confirm that warrants are necessary to access our private electronic records.

We at the ACLU are asking Congress to address this very issue as it considers updates to ECPA. We believe that, to protect Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, government officials must be required to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before allowing access to any electronic records, such as emails, cell phone locations and Internet search histories, just as they have always had to do for other sensitive personal information. Sounds reasonable, right?

It seems obvious to us that, as our technology advances, so should our privacy rights. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. This week’s testimony seems like further evidence that our most sensitive and private communications are considered fair game by the government.

Congress is going to be working on updating ECPA soon and your dotRights are at stake. Tell your representatives and senators that the Fourth Amendment applies to your online information!

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