Leahy Introduces Privacy Update

Washington — Sen. Patrick Leahy (DVermont)
has introduced a bill that would
prevent companies from voluntarily sharing
Internet users’ geolocation information
with the government.

The Electronic
Privacy Act
Act, an update
of Leahy’s 1986
Electronic Communications
Act, requires
the government
generally to get
a warrant or a
court order to
gain access to geolocation
data and other sensitive online
information. There are some waivers for
emergencies, imminent danger or national

Last week, in rolling out the adminstration’s
new cyber-security plans, the Justice Department
was emphasizing the need for law enforcement
to get access to online info to pursue
cybercriminals. But Leahy, chairman of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to make
sure that legal protections from government
overreach keep pace with the digital age.

The bill also requires the government to
obtain a search warrant for e-mail and other
electronic communications and to notify the
person whose e-mail contents were divulged,
though allowing for a delay in that notification
— by court order — in special circumstances
including national security.

“Since the
Electronic Communications
Act was first
enacted in 1986,
ECPA has been
one of our nation’s
privacy laws,”
Leahy said in
announcing the
bill. “But today,
this law is significantly
and outpaced
by rapid changes
in technology
and the changing
mission of our
law enforcement
agencies after
Sept. 11. Updating
this law to reflect the realities
of our time is essential to ensuring that our federal
privacy laws keep pace with new technologies
and the new threats to our security.”

Like the administration’s cybersecurity
legislative recommendations, which were
outlined to reporters last week, the Leahy bill
would allow for ISPs to share information with
the government on cyber attacks, with protections
for the privacy of that information and of
civil liberties.

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.