House Members Seek ECPA Update

A trio of House members have introduced a bill that would force government agencies to get a search warrant before they intercept or require disclosure of electronic communications like e-mails and tweets.

The bill, the Online Communication and Geolocation Act (Zoe Lofgren ) would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which they say has not kept pace with evolving tech like the cloud and geolocation and has led to "convoluted" privacy protections.

Introducing the bills were Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ted Poe (R- Tex.) and Suzan DelBene (D- Wash.). ECPA currently only requires a subpoena if the content is more than half a year old.

The bill would:

"Require the government to obtain a warrant to access to wire or electronic communications content;
"Require the government to obtain a warrant to intercept or force service providers to disclose geolocation data;
"Preserve exceptions for emergency situations, foreign intelligence surveillance, individual consent, public information, and emergency assistance;
"Prohibit service providers from disclosing a user's geolocation information to the government in the absence of a warrant or exception;
"Prohibit the use of unlawfully obtained geolocation information as evidence;
"Provide for administrative discipline and a civil cause of action if geolocation information is unlawfully intercepted or disclosed."

Digital 4th praised the move. "We commend Reps. Poe, Lofgren and DelBene for their longstanding commitment to protecting Americans' privacy," said the coalition, which include American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and Heritage Action for America.

"Our laws must be updated so that government and law enforcement officials are required to get a warrant before accessing Americans' online communications, such as emails, documents and pictures," said Chris Calabrese, senior policy director at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

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.