Senate Judiciary Approves Electronic Privacy Bill Update

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday favorably
reported out a bill that amends the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to
put stricter controls on government access to emails and other stored

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) Amendments
Act of 2013, cosponsored by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen.
Mike Lee (R-Utah), would require a probable cause search warrant to access emails,
IMs and social Web interactions stored by third parties.

It would also require a warrant for stored content older
than 180 days, which is currently not the case, and gives the government 10
days to disclose to individuals when their communications has been secured from
a third party via warrant.

The committee reported out a similar bill in the last
Congress, but it failed to pass.

The bill's progress drew kudos from various industry

"Updating ECPA has been a top priority of TechAmerica and we
are very encouraged with the overwhelming support the legislation received in
the Committee," said that group in a statement. "We commend chairman
Leahy for making ECPA reform a top priority and making sure that the
information Americans store in the cloud receives the same level of protection
as the information stored in the physical world."

"This is a long overdue step toward bringing our online
privacy laws closer to both our existing 4th amendment protections and our
reasonable expectations for privacy," said CCIA president Ed Black in a
statement. "CCIA is grateful to chairman Leahy, Senator Lee and other
supporters for their work to ensure that our emails, instant messages and
social networking communications have robust 4th Amendment-level protections.
We hope that Congressional leaders will be able to resist weakening amendments.

The House is also considering ECPA changes. The House
Judiciary Committee Thursday held a hearing on privacy issues surrounding
government surveillance and the role of geolocation information in criminal

In a statement on the Senate bill, Sen.
Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley pointed to that hearing,
said it was unfortunate that the Senate had not had a similar hearing and said
that should geolocation become part of a house ECPA reform bill, the Senate
Judiciary Committee should have a similar hearing before its bill was debated
on the Senate floor.

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.