Today, ARL is joining a nationwide day of action calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the law that says the government can access your email and documents in the cloud without a warrant. Before you do anything else (including finishing this blog post!), go sign the petition!!
OK, welcome back. ECPA is one of the Internet’s most outdated laws – it was enacted in 1986, before most people had access to a home computer or email. While the public has been rightfully outraged over reports that the NSA accesses communications without a warrant, ECPA says that hundreds of other government agencies—like the IRS, FBI, and DEA, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies—can access many of our stored emails, private social media messages, and documents in the cloud without getting a warrant from a judge. The law flies directly in the face of our Fourth Amendment values; in fact, many companies have fought back and now demand warrants before turning over customers’ communications.
As libraries and universities move crucial services into “the Cloud,” it is absolutely crucial that private information about what people read, what research they do, who they’re talking to, and what they’re interested in remains private. ECPA means that the research files and records that used to be protected by a warrant when they lived in a folder in your desk drawer is suddenly no longer protected now that it’s stored in a virtual folder online. This is an absurd result and it is crucial to change the law to bring online privacy into line with our expectations.
Bills to reform ECPA have gained huge support in recent months from both parties in Congress. However, legislation is now being blocked by a proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is pushing for a special carve-out for regulatory agencies to get your documents from online providers without a warrant. The SEC carve-out would neuter ECPA reform. It would mean that your documents and communications in the cloud continue to be second-class citizens with little privacy protection from government agencies.
That’s why we’re calling on the White House to break its silence and stand up for ECPA reform. We need President Obama to tell the SEC to back down in its demands for troubling new powers and make clear that the time for ECPA reform is now.
Today we ask you join us by signing this petition to the White House (in case you haven’t already!). It’s time for the President to join libraries, tech companies, startups, advocates, and Members of Congress by supporting this commonsense, long overdue reform to ensure our privacy rights online.
Day of action participating organizations:
Americans for Tax Reform
American Library Association
Application Developers Alliance
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fight for the Future
Free Press Action Fund
The Internet Association
Internet Infrastructure Coalition
NY Tech Meetup
Open Technology Institute