Google Reminds People the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Is Bad, Needs Reform

Google is happy that the ECPA reform is picking up support in Congress

It’s been a long time since Google first started expressing its concern for the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and now the company is rejoicing over news that there’s a growing support for its reform.

The ECPA reform bill seeks to prevent the collection of digital data without a warrant, which Google believes to be a common sense reform. Now, with a growing support in the House of Representatives, the search giant is calling for even more to join in.

“Although the recent debate around government surveillance has focused on the reach of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), we have long supported efforts to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) so that the government must obtain a warrant to require a provider to disclose content stored with the provider,” Google’s Senior Privacy Policy Counsel, David Lieber, said.

The company believes that this reform is long overdue and points out that, while back in 1986, when it was enacted, it was well-intentioned, ECPA no longer reflects users’ reasonable expectations of privacy.

Lieber gives a simple example by mentioning that an email may receive better privacy protections under ECPA depending on how old it is, whether it has been opened, and where it is stored, while users may attach no importance to these issues.

“In 2010, a federal appeals court said that ECPA itself is unconstitutional to the extent that it authorizes the government to obtain the content of emails without a warrant. Google agrees with the court that the Fourth Amendment requires that the government issue a search warrant to compel a provider to disclose the content of communications that a user stores with a provider,” Lieber added.

That being said, Google wants the Congress to send a clear message about the limits of government surveillance by enacting legislation that would create a clear necessity to obtain a warrant if any law enforcement agency desires anyone’s email content.

Enacted in October 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act extended the government’s restrictions on wiretaps from phone calls to include transmissions of data over the Internet. Under ECPA, the government can demand that service providers hand over personal content of users without the consent of the user or a warrant.

Email that is stored on a third party’s server for more than 180 days is considered to be “abandoned” by law, which was a viable opinion back in the day, when storage space was limited, but not now, when we all have large accounts and emails dating back several years.

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