Back to News & Commentary A Conduit for Change

Sandra Fulton,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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September 18, 2013

As the scope and depth of NSA’s spying continues to grow—and the ACLU continues to fight for Americans’ privacy—we cannot forget about similar privacy violations committed by state and local law enforcement. Today the ACLU and other advocacy groups and like-minded organizations are launching an online site, Vanishing Rights, to support legislation to do just that.

As we have written about time and time again, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the main statute governing privacy online, is seriously outdated. It was passed in 1986 by well-meaning legislators who intended to put strong privacy protections in place for emerging technologies like email. However—unlike technology which has evolved at a breakneck pace—ECPA has stagnated and become woefully out of date, leaving our online lives vulnerable to local, state, and federal law enforcement.

The good news is that a major update to the legislation is possible right now. States are acting. Texas recently passed a law requiring law enforcement to get a warrant before accessing email. A similar bill passed in California and is awaiting the governor’s signature. Massachusetts has a bill pending that would create warrant requirements for phone, internet, and location tracking. And many other states are considering similar legislation.

We are also making headway at the federal level. In April, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2013, a bill that would grant all online communications warrant protections. This bill would not only secure email, but would also guarantee the privacy of social network posts, personal contacts, photos, online journals, and sensitive health or financial information. And possibly even more noteworthy, the bill passed with huge bipartisan support.

The coalition of groups behind Vanishing Rights is now working to push support for a similar bill, the Email Privacy Act, in the House of Representatives. The bill already has an impressive 137 co-sponsors—96 Republicans and 41 Democrats—so we are well on our way to securing a majority. is a great tool that will give you details on the bill and what protections it offers. It will also let you know if your member of Congress supports it.

The Fourth Amendment was written to protect our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” from unwarranted government surveillance. The Founders of our country knew that individuals’ personal privacy was the cornerstone of a free and healthy democracy. We cannot allow law enforcement at any level abrogate this key protection.

Please visit and contact your member of Congress and urge them to support the Email Privacy Act and restore the basic privacy rights of Americans.

Click here for a more detailed version of the graphic above, which details some of what law enforcement can access without a warrant.

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