The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is pleased that on June 17, 2014, the Email Privacy Act, H.R. 1852, reached a milestone of 218 co-sponsors, representing a majority of support from the members of the House of Representatives.
The Email Privacy Act, originally introduced by Rep. Yoder (R-KS) on May 7, 2013, would update an outdated law known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and ensure that important Fourth Amendment privacy protections extend to online communications. ECPA was enacted in 1986 and has not kept pace with evolving technologies. The law permits government agencies to access e-mails, documents and other communications that are older than 180 days and stored online without obtaining a warrant, affording online communications with less protection than hard copy documents stored in a filing cabinet.
As libraries and universities move services into the cloud and more communications take place online, it is critical that Fourth Amendment protect information long considered to be private—including what individuals are reading or researching, and to whom they are talking—even in the digital world. The growth of the Internet has launched new forms of communications and changed the way individuals interact since ECPA’s enactment in 1986. The Email Privacy Act would change the absurd results of ECPA and require agencies to obtain a warrant for content, thereby ensuring that Fourth Amendment protections extend to online documents and communications.
A majority of the House of Representatives clearly supports the restoration of these important privacy rights and ARL urges Congress to act quickly to pass the Email Privacy Act. There is no logical reason to grant greater privacy protection for hard copy documents or traditional forms of communication than for documents stored in the cloud or e-mail and social media communications. The Email Privacy Act provides a practical solution to this absurdity.