Senate Resurrects Cloud Storage Protections Bill

A bipartisan bill, the ECPA Modernization Act, has been introduced that would update communications privacy law to protect cloud storage. It is the latest effort by the Senate to address the issue after the House voted overwhelmingly to protect older data. 

In the previous Congress, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa.) pulled an Electronic Communications Privacy Act update bill from the committee's markup agenda after "poison pill" amendments threatened to expand the bill into areas that neither of its co-sponsors wanted it to go.

That baseline bill, which passed the House 419 to zero, would have updated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to provide protections for cloud storage by requiring a probable cause warrant for accessing information in the cloud and extending the protections to emails and other content stored over 180 days (currently no warrant is required to access those). 

"Americans don’t believe the federal government should have warrantless access to their emails just because they are 180 days old,” Lee said in a statement on the new bill. “They don’t believe the government should be able to always know where you are just because you are carrying a cell phone. It is long past time that Congress updated our federal laws to better protect Americans’ privacy.”

“Americans expect and deserve strong, meaningful protections for their emails, texts, photos, location information and documents stored in the cloud," said Leahy.

Leahy helped write the original ECPA law and has said no one anticipated the way communications would be transmitted and stored.

“In the digital world, Americans deserve the same privacy protections that we have for our papers and personal information in the physical world," said Adam Brandon, president of free market, small government group Freedomworks. "Senator Lee’s efforts to reform ECPA’s outdated standards will restore the protections that our founder’s enshrined in the Constitution. I’m glad to see Sens. Lee and Leahy's continued leadership on this important issue.”

“Internet-era privacy reforms are long overdue and we commend Senators Lee and Leahy for their bill to clearly extend Fourth Amendment protections to emails and geolocation information stored in the cloud," said Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communcations Industry Association. "As most individuals’ communications are now stored online, law enforcement should obtain a warrant before demanding access. This principle is equally true for the intimate information contained in users’ digitally stored location data. The Lee-Leahy bill will ensure that the Constitution’s protections for individual privacy are reflected in how information is stored and accessed in the 21st Century.”

“ECPA was enacted long before many of us knew what email was, let alone used it, and over 30 years later it is woefully out of step with our everyday world of communicating through connected devices and cloud computing,” said Andy Halataei, SVP for government affairs for tech trade group ITI. “Electronic communications contain the most sensitive details about our lives, but unlike a filing cabinet or desk drawer in our homes, the government can access emails and other online content without a warrant after 180 days. Like ECPA reforms unanimously passed by the House earlier this year, Sens. Lee and Leahy’s bill reflects how we use cloud services to communicate by granting our electronic communications the same Constitutional protections enjoyed by the papers and effects we keep in our homes.”

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.