Senate Pushed to Pass Clean ECPA Reform Bill

A host of privacy, tech and civil society groups and trade associations are calling on the Senate Commerce Committee to approve a "clean" version of an Electronic Communications Privacy Act reform bill that passed unanimously in the House.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Neb.) and ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), 68 separate signatories said while the bill does not represent all the ECPA reforms they would have liked to see, but it was a negotiated compromise and needs to pass without amendments that would "weaken" it.

Among those signing on to the bill were Apple, Facebook, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

Related: Email Privacy Act Passage Draws Extended Applause

The SEC has been pushing for a carve-out for civil agency investigations, but that was not included in the House bill and would create issues if it were added to the Senate bill, which would then need to be re-voted in the House.

On April 27, the House passed HR 699, the Email Privacy Act (EPA), which this week will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. At its passage, the bipartisan leadership of the House Judiciary Committee called for swift Senate passage.

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The EPA updates the ECPA to, among other things, require the government to get a warrant to access emails, social media posts and other online content stored by internet service providers and other email service providers--like Google.

And in a nod to the permanence of cloud storage, it eliminates the 180-day sunset on stored communications.

Related: NTIA's Verdi Joins Future of Privacy Forum

Previously a warrant was not required for communications stored beyond 180 days.

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.