More good news could be in the offing for reform of ECPA, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) recently (and pleasantly) surprised reform proponents by calendaring a Committee vote on the issue now likely to take place this coming Thursday morning, May 26th. The Committee, it is hoped, will take up and pass H.R. 699, the Email Privacy Act, which was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives, as reported in District Dispatch, barely three weeks ago. (A similar but not identical Senate bill co-authored by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy [D-VT], S. 356, also could be called up and acted upon.)
Either bill finally would update ECPA in the way most glaringly needed: to virtually always require the government to get a standard, judicially-approved search warrant based upon probable cause to acquire the full content of an individual’s emails, texts, tweets, cloud-based files or other electronic communications. No matter which is considered, however, there remains a significant risk that, on Thursday, the bill’s opponents will try to dramatically weaken that core reform by exempting certain agencies (like the IRS and SEC) from the new warrant requirement, and/or by providing dangerous exceptions to law enforcement and security agencies acting in overbroadly defined “emergency” circumstances.
Earlier today, ALA joined a new joint letter signed by nearly 65 of its public and sector coalition partners calling on Senators Grassley and Leahy to take up and pass H.R. 699 as approved by the House: in other words “without any [such] amendments that would weaken the protections afforded by the bill” ultimately approved by 419 of the 435 House Members.
Now is the time to tell the Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that almost 30 years has been much too long to wait for real ECPA reform. Please go to ALA’s Legislative Action Center to email to your Senate Judiciary Senator now!