International Communications Privacy Bill Reintroduced

A bipartisan quartet of House members has reintroduced the International Communications Privacy Act (HR 3718), which would clarify the rights and limitations on law enforcement accessing electronic communications stored abroad.

The bill would allow law enforcement to require the provider of an electronic communications service to turn over the contents of an electronic communication no matter where it is stored, but only pursuant to a warrant.

That allows cloud storage of U.S. information abroad to be accessed, but not unless the law enforcement agency has gotten a court to sign off on the forced disclosure.

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Co-sponsoring the bill were Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

“Thirty years after Congress passed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, America needs statutes that address information security in an increasingly digital and global age," said Rep. Collins. "The International Communications Privacy Act will increase the effectiveness of American law enforcement and the privacy protections of U.S. citizens by correcting the legal ambiguity that has threatened both in recent years. Support for ICPA is growing, and the courts have made it clear that the time for Congress to act in this space has come. I’m grateful to Senator Hatch for his leadership on this issue and look forward to bringing clarity to the U.S. code that governs the cloud."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a Senate version of the bill in July.

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Specifically, the bill:

"Requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant for the contents of electronic communications. Under ICPA, law enforcement may only obtain the contents of electronic communications stored with electronic communication service providers and remote computing service providers only pursuant to a warrant.

"Clarifies that U.S. law enforcement can obtain the electronic communications of U.S. persons and persons located inside the United States pursuant to a warrant, regardless of where those communications are located. Additionally authorizes U.S. law enforcement to obtain electronic communications relating to foreign nationals who are located outside the United States in certain circumstances.

"Reforms the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process by providing greater accessibility, transparency, and accountability. Requires the Attorney General to create an online docketing system for MLAT requests and to publish statistics on the number of such requests.

"Provides a sense of Congress that data providers should not be subject to data localization requirements. Such requirements are incompatible with the borderless nature of the Internet, are an impediment to online innovation, and are unnecessary to meet the needs of law enforcement."

The Entertainment Software Association was pleased to see the bill reappear.

“The International Communications Privacy Act strikes the right balance between the needs of law enforcement and protecting online privacy," ESA said in a statement. "Online and in the cloud, electronic communications, whether stored in the U.S. or abroad, deserve robust protection afforded by a warrant requirement. This legislation upgrades customer privacy and puts in place a clear procedure for handling access to the communications of foreign nationals."

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.