E-Mail Privacy Act Passage Draws Extended Applause

"Privacy Wins in a Landslide as House Passes Email Privacy Act." That was the headline on the e-mailed reaction of the Center for Democracy & Technology to the passage of a House bill that would protect the privacy of e-mails and other online communications, regardless of where they were stored or how long.

The Electronic Privacy Act's unanimous passage drew a chorus of cheers and applause from various groups.

"This legislation is a long overdue remedy to the loopholes in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) that treat data stored in the cloud differently than data stored on a local computer," said the information Technology and Innovation Foundation. "Americans expect that their data will receive Fourth Amendment protections regardless of the means used to store it, and this legislation will help bridge that divide.

"We are pleased to see the House of Representatives taking this bipartisan step to safeguard the privacy and Fourth Amendment protections of Americans without compromising law enforcement’s ability to prosecute and solve crimes. We hope the Senate will follow suit."

“The House took a big and much needed step to bring citizens’ online privacy protections into the 21st Century. With more and more personal information and communication stored online, it is imperative that emails have the same Constitutional protections from government intrusion as a letter stored in a file cabinet," said Computer & Communications Industry Association President Ed Black. “The Email Privacy Act, which would require the government to seek a warrant to access citizens’ email, will enshrine a bright-line rule for law enforcement requests nationwide.

Importantly, the standard does not include a carveout for civil agencies, though it was amended in the House Judiciary Committee. As the bill moves on to the Senate, we encourage stakeholders to further strengthen the privacy protections it contains.

“Privacy reform has waited long enough. We commend the House for its actions today and urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass the Email Privacy Act. ”

There was more urging of the Senate from the ACLU.

“The level of bipartisan support for this bill is a reflection of public’s strong belief that the government must respect and protect privacy rights in the digital age," said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel. "Now it’s the Senate’s turn to pass this important bill and strengthen it by including a requirement that the government inform people when it forces companies to turn over their information.”

"The House of Representatives definitively protected consumers' privacy today by empowering Americans to safely create, share and collect electronic data in a secure and private manner. We commend them for their leadership," said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association

   "Passage of the Email Privacy Act will update the antiquated Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), requiring the government to get a warrant before searching email, voicemail or text messages stored in the cloud. This legislation will eliminate the different requirements for cloud data, replacing them with a single standard so online communications are given the same privacy protections as physical mail. This helps instill confidence in consumers that personal data is legally protected, no matter where it is stored."

“Today, the House took a major step forward in bringing our nation’s electronic communications privacy laws into the 21st century,” said Linda Moore, president of TechNet.  “These laws haven’t been updated since 1986, and modernization is badly needed.  TechNet commends the House for sending a clear message that the U.S. Constitution applies to private digital information just as it applies to physical property.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.