One of the petitions that generated a response from the U.S. government this summer concerned outdated laws on electronic communications. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was passed by Congress back in 1986 and was intended to update wiretapping laws to reflect the advent of e-mail and comparable electronic communications.
There has been action in Congress over the last several years to try and update the legislation. Senator Leahy of Vermont, who was instrumental in crafting the initial legislation, understands the need to update it and has worked with others to extend the protection of a warrant to many forms of electronic communications stored with third parties. Based on the 1986 laws, electronic communications could only be accessed with a warrant if they were kept with the individual. But with web-based and cloud-based services, many electronic communications are held with third parties. As such, after 180 days no warrant is necessary to access such communications.
The Administration was supportive of ECPA reform in its response, but since updates to this and other privacy laws have gone through the Congressional process several times without sniffing the President’s desk, it’s not clear from the response that the Administration is likely to expend much political capital on the latest bill supporting ECPA reform.