A decades-old communications privacy law would be updated to better shield Internet users and wireless subscribers from overly broad government surveillance programs, under a bipartisan bill introduced Monday and coauthored by a Silicon Valley congresswoman.
The Online Communications and Geolocation Protection Act by U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Ted Poe, R- Texas; and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., would modernize the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act by requiring government agencies to get a search warrant based on probable cause prior to intercepting or forcing disclosure of electronic communications or geolocation data.
The 1986 law – meant to set legal standards that law enforcement agencies must meet to access electronic communications – hasn’t kept up with technology, leaving modern user data with only weak, convoluted protection.
“Fourth Amendment protections don’t stop at the Internet, and Americans rightly expect Constitutional protections to extend to their online communications and location data,” Lofgren said in a news release. “Establishing a warrant standard for government access to cloud and geolocation provides Americans with the privacy protections they expect, and would enable service providers to build greater trust with their users and global trading partners.”
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act does not clearly require law enforcement to get a warrant to access Americans’ online communications – all it takes is a subpoena if the content is more than 180 days old.
ECPA also lacks any clear standards for law enforcement access to location information, such as tracking an individual’s cell phone location, leading to confusion in courts, compliance burdens for businesses, a competitive disadvantage with international businesses in countries with stronger laws against government access, and inadequate privacy for Americans.
This bill would: