Bipartisan, Bicameral Group Introduces Bill to Protect Online Privacy

February 4, 2015

WASHINGTON – Today, a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators introduced a bill to modernize our nation’s electronic privacy laws and bring protections against warrantless searches into harmony with the technological realities of the 21st century. The “Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act of 2015” (ECPA) was submitted in the Senate by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  Representatives Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO) sponsored the House version of the bill.

“There is no reason we should still be operating under a law written in the analog age when we’re living in a digital world,” said Sen. Lee. “Yet that’s exactly what has happened with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which has remained virtually unchanged since it was first enacted in 1986. In the nearly three decades since ECPA became law, technology has advanced rapidly and beyond the imagination of anyone living in 1986. The prevalence of email and the low cost of electronic data storage have made what were once robust protections insufficient to ensure that citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights are adequately protected.”

“The bill we are introducing today protects Americans’ digital privacy – in their emails, and all the other files and photographs they store in the cloud.  It builds consumer trust, and it provides law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to ensure public safety,” Sen. Leahy said. “This is a bipartisan issue, and now is the time to act swiftly to bring our privacy protections into the digital age.”

“The federal government is using an arcane 1986 law to conduct warrantless searches of the personal email accounts and other digital communication of the American people,” said Rep. Yoder. “The last time Congress updated our email privacy laws, we were two years removed from the release of the first Macintosh computer. It’s time Congress modernized these outdated statutes to ensure that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment extend to Americans’ email correspondence and digital storage.”

“For too long now Americans’ electronic communications have been subject to invasive and unwarranted searches based on laws written for the Apple 2, not the iPhone 6,” said Rep. Jared Polis. “Today, a majority of the House of Representatives is standing up to say that the government has no more business reading your personal email than it does reading your physical mail. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this bipartisan bill and make a reasonable expectation of privacy the law for all forms of communication.”

The Lee-Leahy-Yoder-Polis ECPA Amendments Act of 2015 shows how outdated laws can be improved through bipartisan, commonsense reforms. The bill protects Americans’ email and other data held in the cloud by requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause before accessing it.  It replaces the obsolete “180-day rule,” which some government agencies invoke to claim warrantless access to older emails.

The Senate bill has 6 additional cosponsors, Republican Senators Cornyn, Moran, and Gardner, and Democratic Senators Shaheen, Blumenthal, and Merkley.  The House version of ECPA has 227 additional cosponsors. 

This legislation is also carefully crafted so it does not impede the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations. As such, the ECPA Amendments Act of 2015 enjoys broad support from the technology industry, privacy advocates, constitutional scholars, and policy groups across the ideological spectrum.