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Protection of online privacy moves forward in bipartisan vote!

The Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) took an important bipartisan vote today to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA) and strengthen the privacy protection of emails and documents stored online in the “cloud.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the SJC, spearheaded an amendment to the existing law to require that the government seek warrants before law enforcement, or other federal regulatory bodies, may obtain personal online records from Internet service providers and third party providers. The current ECPA law allows investigators access to emails and other private online information through third parties without judicial approval.

ALA’s commitment to privacy grows out of the library community’s deep principles to protect library users’ reading and online records, unless there is judicial approval and probable cause. In the weeks leading up to today’s markup, the American Library Association (ALA) worked with allies including the Digital Due Process Coalition and the Vanishing Rights Coalition, to advocate for necessary ECPA reforms.  Since ECPA was passed in 1986, several changes in technology have occurred, such as the increasingly popular use of cloud technologies and third party storage services.

With only three weeks left in the current Congress, several steps need to be taken before the bill is completely amended. The bill will now go to the Senate for a floor vote. Additional steps require action in the House and signing by President Obama.  But the markup is a major step forward for the SJC to approve these reform provisions, even if the issue moves to the next Congress.

This current ECPA reauthorization is actually part of H.R. 2471, a reauthorization of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), also passed in the 1980’s.  The House bill started only as an update of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA.) The Committee passed an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) requiring customers to opt-in to any video sharing agreement, and that any advanced consent to share video viewing information must be renewed after two years — another good step to protect privacy of personal records.

“The American Library Association thanks Senators Leahy, Feinstein, Franken, Cornyn, Lee and others who recognize the importance of protecting personal information in online activities (ECPA) and pushing reforms for consumers’ video-viewing records,” said Lynne Bradley, director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations. “We are ready to work with these champions and others to move these reforms forward in the coming weeks and months.”

Senator Leahy’s statement is now available online.

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Lynne Bradley

Lynne Bradley is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.

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