On Thursday the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), sponsored by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, was unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The ECPA has actually been around since 1986; the new version has been updated for the 21st Century. Now law enforcement will be required to have a search warrant if they want a peek at emails, private messages and data that’s been uploaded to the cloud.
As The Next Web reports, the ACLU is pretty happy the new version of the act has come this far:
“This is an important gain for privacy,” Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel for the ACLU, said in a statement. “We are very happy that the committee voted that all electronic content like emails, photos and other communications held by companies like Google and Facebook should be protected with a search warrant. We believe law enforcement should use the same standard to search your inbox that they do to search your home.”
We’ve embedded Senator Leahy’s version of the ECPA below. The ACLU may be pleased with it, but there are still elements in the new legislation that may give privacy activists pause, like provisions on page 12 that allow “emergency acquisition” of electronic data without a warrant for several reasons, including “an immediate threat to national security.”
Some in law enforcement could use the term “immediate threat” as a pretty broad brush.
Passage through a Senate committee is just one positive step ahead for the revised ECPA–the legislation still must go through the rest of the Senate as well as the House, and could see a good deal of revision along the way.