The Gazette Editorial Board
While the nation’s attention has focused on the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices after former NSA employee Edward Snowden blew the whistle, another 4th Amendment privacy issue deserves even more attention.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a federal law passed in 1986, established rules for government access to private information stored or transmitted on the Internet. Trouble is, the rules were devised before most of us had home computers, routinely used email and social media and stored data on the “cloud” instead of our own files.
As the ECPA stands, authorities in some situations can, without a warrant from a judge, force vendors such as email service providers to turn over their customers’ private data. Digital 4th — a bipartisan coalition led by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Center for Democracy and Technology, and Heritage Action for America — says that’s just not right or good for Americans or American business.
4th Digital wants the same constitutional protections for private electronic data as has been afforded other personal communications — i.e., a judge must issue a warrant to allow police or other enforcement agencies access to your mailed letters’ contents or phone call conversations. That standard is waived only in emergencies, as when someone’s life is at stake or there’s a national security threat.
Even the NSA needs a warrant to read the email it tracks. Why shouldn’t the same standard apply to email you or a private business stores on the cloud?
The Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal agencies oppose a proposed legislative fix to ECPA. But they already can freeze a provider’s data while building a case for access to investigate alleged misconduct.
Senate file S607, and similar legislation in the House, strikes a proper balance between privacy rights and investigators’ authority.
This amendment to protect one of our freedoms is overdue.