House Hears Testimony On Proposed Updates To Privacy Law

May 5, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing today on updating the out-of-date Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). ECPA became law in 1986 – long before the Web was invented – and has not been properly updated to reflect the vast technological advances that have occurred since its passage. The American Civil Liberties Union, along with a broad coalition named Digital Due Process that includes AT&T, Google, Microsoft, the Center for Democracy and Technology and Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been urging Congress to make much-needed changes to ECPA.

“We need to upgrade our privacy laws as quickly as possible,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “While our technology has developed rapidly, our electronic privacy rights remain largely stuck in the ‘80s. Clearly, a twenty-year-old electronic privacy law that was drafted and passed before the Internet age can hardly be called sufficient protection. We hope this hearing will set in motion congressional action to make updating the Electronic Privacy Act a priority this session.”

Eighty-two percent of Americans own cell phones which transmit location information every minute of every day, and countless e-mails and text messages are sent daily. Digital Due Process is asking that ECPA be updated to require government officials to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before allowing access to any of those electronic records, just as they have always had to do for similarly sensitive personal papers.

The ACLU believes the efforts being urged by the coalition to update ECPA are critical first steps, but is asking Congress to make even further changes to the law. Specifically, the ACLU is asking that Congress modernize ECPA to robustly protect all personal electronic information, institute oversight and reporting requirements, bar illegally obtained information from being admissible in court and, finally, craft reasonable exceptions to safeguard Americans’ privacy rights.

“We cannot allow our technological advances to outpace our privacy protections,” said Murphy. “As we rapidly live more of our lives online, it’s crucial that Congress create clear, bright lines for law enforcement when it comes to collecting information. Now more than ever, it’s critical that Americans receive comprehensive protection for their e-mails, texts and phone call records.”

The ACLU’s statement for the record submitted to the subcommittee is here:

More information on the ACLU’s work with online privacy can be found at:

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