Why Congress Has to Update Email Privacy Law

It's time for Congress to follow the Sixth Circuit's lead and update one of the main online privacy laws—the Electronic Privacy Communications Act (ECPA).

In the past, the Department of Justice has used the archaic law to obtain private online communications without obtaining a probable cause warrant as the Fourth Amendment requires. A bill co-sponsored by Reps. Kevin Yoder, Tom Graves, and Jared Polis—HR 1852, The Email Privacy Act—seeks to update ECPA by requiring a probable cause warrant whenever the government wants to access your online private messages.

The bill is slowly making its way through Congress, but we can speed it up. Tell your representative right now to cosponsor the bill. The bill ensures the government can't try to (ab)use ECPA in order to obtain our private online messages.

ECPA must be updated because the government has used the law to obtain private online messages—like personal email accounts or our social media messages—older than 180 days without a probable cause warrant. The government would have to obtain a warrant if those same messages were printed out on your desk. This difference shouldn't exist. By cosponsoring The Email Privacy Act, the government can no longer neglect the fact that Fourth Amendment protections do not whither with age.

Along with EFF, fifteen other privacy advocates and companies—like the Center for Democracy and Technology and DuckDuckGo—are spurring momentum to pass HR 1852. The bill would finally accomplish one of four goals of the Digital Due Process Coalition, a collection of tech companies, start-ups, privacy advocates, and think tanks working to update ECPA to ensure that laws continue to protect the rights of users as technologies advance and usage patterns evolve.

Updating ECPA is a common-sense move. Our freedom and constitutional protections do not expire with time. Tell your Rep. now to cosponsor HR 1852 and join us in demanding for long-overdue updates to our archaic electronic privacy laws.

This post first appeared on Electronic Frontier Foundation and is reproduced here under Creative Commons license. Image via Shutterstock / Pavel Ignatov.