Tag Archives: congress

Re:create Coalition Opposes Creation of Copyright Office as an Independent Agency

On September 30, 2015, the Re:Create Coalition released a letter supporting modernization of the Copyright Office while opposing the establishment of the Copyright Office as an independent agency (as suggested in a discussion draft bill by Representatives Chu (D-CA) and Marino (R-PA)).  It points out that while some have claimed that consensus exists to make the Copyright Office an independent agency, no such consensus exists.

The letter notes that while modernization is needed, creating an independent Copyright Office will not solve the information technology challenges the office faces.  Additionally, the letter states:

In this digital age, we agree there is a clear need to upgrade and modernize the Copyright Office and view the upcoming appointment of a new Librarian of Congress for the first time in three decades as an opportunity for just such potentially transformative change. We believe that reforms both to improve the process of registering copyrights and to improve the transparency and accessibility of this information to the public are crucial. Additionally, while Re:Create members have diverse views as to the appropriate home for the Copyright Office, we are united in our belief that the case has not been made for transforming the Copyright Office into an independent agency.

The letter also calls for the Copyright Office to be more responsive to the public, pointing out that:

A thoroughly modern Copyright Office will be one able to carefully weigh the interests of rights-holders, the rapidly evolving creative market, and the greater public of information users and consumers (often creators themselves), with an eye toward finding the appropriate balance to foster more, rather than less, speech. For example, in the context of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) rulemaking, a more thorough and balanced assessment of the public’s reliance on exemptions for cell phone unlocking or access to works for the blind and print-disabled could have altered the Office’s ultimately countermanded recommendations to eliminate those exemptions. In the case of cell phone unlocking, a fuller consideration of the needs of the public during the rulemaking process may even have prevented the need for Congress to step in to protect consumers’ ability to use the devices they own on the  network of their choice.

New Advocacy and Policy Update: August 14, 2015

A new ARL Advocacy and Policy Update, covering mid-June to mid-August is now available here.  Prior updates can be accessed here.

The summary and contents from the current Advocacy and Policy Update are reproduced below:

Summary

The US House of Representatives began the summer recess on July 30th, and the US Senate adjourned on August 6th with both reconvening on September 8th. September and October promise to be very busy months as both chambers must act on the FY 2017 appropriations bills, highway trust fund, debt ceiling, and many other issues. It is also hoped that there will be a deal to increase the spending limits under sequestration, which higher education institutions and others have long advocated for.

Much of the activity related to copyright has centered around the Copyright Office. Congressional offices continue to explore and discuss ways to modernize the Copyright Office, including various proposals to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress. Additionally, the Copyright Office has issued notices of inquiries that relate to orphan works, mass digitization, visual works, and extended collective licensing.

There have been positive developments with respect to open access, open educational resources, and open data. The Obama Administration released science and technology priorities for FY 2017, which note that “preserving and improving access to scientific collections, research data, other results of federally funded research, open datasets and open education resources should be a priority for agencies.” The FASTR Bill to enhance public access to research was approved unanimously by the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Privacy and surveillance concerns continue as Congress is considering cybersecurity legislation that raises serious issues for privacy and civil liberties. Litigation around net neutrality is in full swing, with the briefs of telecommunications companies opposing the FCC’s net neutrality rules filed in July.

Finally, ARL continues to promote a simple and quick ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. Currently, 10 countries have ratified the Treaty, and 10 more are needed for it to enter into force.

Contents

Copyright and Intellectual Property

  • Proposal to “Modernize” the Copyright Office
  • Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry on Visual Works
  • Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry on Mass Digitization and Extended Collective Licensing
  • House Judiciary Committee’s Copyright Review

Open Access, Open Educational Resources, and Open Data

  • Obama Administration Releases Science and Technological Priorities for FY 2017
  • Coalition Calls on White House to Open Up Access to Federally Funded Educational Resources
  • FASTR Bill to Enhance Public Access to Research Approved by US Senate Committee
  • National Technical Information Service (NTIS)

Update Appropriations

Draft Bill Would Eliminate NHPRC

Privacy and Surveillance

  • Cybersecurity Legislation
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act Reform

Telecommunications

  • Net Neutrality Litigation

International Treaties

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
  • Marrakesh Treaty

Senate to Move Ahead with Vote on Fast-Track Legislation

On June 23, 2015, the U.S. Senate cleared the procedural hurdle of attaining 60 votes on a motion for cloture to move ahead with a vote on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast-track” legislation.  Under “fast-track,” Congress grants the President the authority to sign trade agreements and Congress can only approve or reject these agreements in a straight up-down vote, meaning that it must take the agreement as a complete package and cannot amend the agreement.  As noted in a February 5, 2015 letter from the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), fast-track authority limits Congress’ ability to meaningfully weigh in on an agreement, particularly given the lack of transparency in trade negotiations.  Notably, no trade agreement presented to Congress under fast-track legislation has ever been rejected.  TPA has been seen as critical in concluding negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a large regional trade agreement that currently has twelve negotiating parties.

Today, the Senate voted 60-37 to proceed with a vote on TPA.  While the Senate had passed TPA in an earlier vote in May, that bill packaged fast-track legislation with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), legislation that reduces the negative impacts of imports on certain sectors in the U.S.  On June 12, 2015, the House of Representatives took separate votes on TPA and TAA, voting to pass the TPA portion of the bundled package by a vote of 219-211 but rejecting TAA by 302 to 126.  The House then voted to separate the package and passed TPA in a standalone bill on June 18, with the intention of scheduling a vote on TAA at a later date.  Because the Senate had packaged TPA and TAA, the TPA went back to the Senate.  Although some critics expressed concerns over the separation of the two bills and suggested that TPA could not pass without TAA, the Senate reached its 60 vote threshold to move ahead with the vote which will likely occur later this week.

 

 

Copyright Office Releases Report on Orphan Works and Mass Digitization; Recommends Burdensome Legislation

On June 4, 2015, the Copyright Office released its Report on Orphan Works and Mass Digitization, including recommendations for legislation on orphan works and the creation of an extended collective licensing (ECL) regime for mass digitization. This post focuses only on the Copyright Office’s recommendations on orphan works.  This blog post is also available as an issue brief here.

Report on Orphan Works

The Copyright Office’s report asserts that “the orphan works problem is widespread and significant” and that “anyone using an orphan work does so under a legal cloud, as there is always the possibility that the copyright owner could emerge after the use commenced and seek substantial infringement damages, an injunction, and/or attorneys’ fees.” The report sets forth the problem of orphan works, noting:

The uncertainty surrounding the ownership status of orphan works does not serve the objectives of the copyright system. For good faith users, orphan works are a frustration, a liability risk, and a major cause of gridlock in the digital marketplace. The consequences of this uncertainty reverberate through all types of uses and users, all types and ages of works, and across all creative sectors. By electing to use a work without permission, users run the risk of an infringement suit resulting in litigation costs and possible damages. By foregoing use of these works, a significant part of the world’s cultural heritage embodied in copyright-protected works may not be exploited and may therefore fall into a so-called “20th-century digital black hole.”

The report acknowledges that fair use jurisprudence has moved in a direction that favors the use of orphan works, notably the HathiTrust and Google Books litigation. It notes that this evolution of fair use case law has prompted groups such as the Library Copyright Alliance, of which ARL is a member, to shift its position away from advocating a legislative solution to the orphan works problem. However, the Copyright Office rejects the idea that fair use can provide an adequate solution because:

The judiciary has yet to explicitly address how to apply fair use to orphan works. Thus, the informed and scholarly views of some commenters as to the application of fair use in specific orphan works situations do not yet have as their basis any controlling case law. Also, fair use jurisprudence is, because of its flexibility and fact-specific nature, a less concrete foundation for the beneficial use of orphan works than legislation, and is always subject to change . . . The Office does not believe that reliance on judicial trends, which may turn at any point, is a sufficient basis to forgo a permanent legislative solution.

The Copyright Office also rejects the role of best practices in an orphan works solution, criticizing the ARL Code of Best Practices as well as the Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Orphan Works for Libraries & Archives because they fail to “provide guidance on how a library should go about determining if a work is orphaned in the first place, beyond the lack of commercial exploitation by the owners and the likelihood that the owners could not be located.” Additionally, the report criticizes fair use best practices because they “often are arrived at absent consultation with authors and other copyright owners, and therefore run the risk of being more of an aspirational document—what a community believes fair use ought to be – than a descriptive one.”

Rejecting fair use as a solution, as well as other models such as a government license, the Copyright Office proposes a model that provides for limitations on liability.

Discussion Draft for Legislation

The discussion draft for legislation on orphan works is largely based off the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008, which was passed by the Senate, but failed in the House of Representatives.

Limitations on Remedies

The Copyright Office’s draft legislation would limit remedies to reasonable compensation, defined as the amount a willing buyer and willing seller in the position of the user and the rightholder would have agreed to immediately before the infringement began, for eligible users who can establish that they engaged in a good faith diligent search.

The order to pay reasonable compensation does not apply to nonprofit educational institutions, museums, libraries, archives or public broadcasting entities where 1) the infringement was performed without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage; 2) the infringement was primarily education, religious or charitable in nature; and 3) the infringer ceases to use the work after receiving notice of the claim of infringement and having opportunity to conduct a good faith investigation of the claim.

Injunctions may be granted, subject to an exception where the use is recast, transformed, adapted or integrated into a work “with a significant amount of original expression” and the infringer pays reasonable compensation and provide attribution. This limitation on injunctions does not apply, however, where the owner is the author of the work objects, alleging that the new use “would be prejudicial to the owner’s honor or reputation, and this harm is not otherwise compensable.” This restriction on the limitation on injunctions is new; it was not present in the 2008 Shawn Bentley Act.

Good Faith Diligent Search

A good faith diligent search requires, at a minimum, a search of the Copyright Office records, searching sources of copyright authorship, ownership and licensing information, the use of technology tools, printed publications and “where reasonable, internal or external expert assistance,” and the use of databases, including the Internet. In addition, a good faith diligent search “shall include any actions that are reasonable and appropriate under the facts relevant to the search, including actions based on facts known at the start of the search and facts uncovered during the search, and including a review, as appropriate, of Copyright Office records not available to the public through the Internet that are reasonably likely to be useful in identifying and locating the copyright owner.”

The legislation provides that the Copyright Office will maintain and update “statements of recommended practices” for diligent searches for categories of works. These statements “will ordinarily include reference to materials, resources, databases, and technology tools that are relevant to a search” and may consider comments submitted by interested stakeholders.

The requirements for a good faith diligent search set minimum standards that are highly detailed and burdensome. In addition to the minimum standards for a diligent search, users are required to take “any actions that are reasonable and appropriate” that may include review of Copyright Office records that are not available over the Internet, resulting in extremely time consuming and resource intensive searches.

Notice of Use Requirement

This discussion draft also includes a “Notice of Use” requirement, directing users to submit detailed information to the Copyright Office about the intended use and the nature of the search. The “notice of use” must include the following information: 1) type of work used; 2) description of the work; 3) summary of the qualifying search conducted; 4) any other identifying indicia available to the user; 5) source of the work (such as the library or website where the work was located or publication where the work originally appeared); 6) certification that the user performed a qualifying search; and 7) name of the user and description of how the work will be used.

The version of the Shawn Bentley Act passed by the Senate in 2008 did not contain a Notice of Use Provision. When the bill went over to the House, Congressman Howard Berman, then chairman of the House IP Subcommittee, added a notice of use provision as a “poison pill.” Berman was highly skeptical of the need for legislation, so he added the notice of use requirement because he knew it would be strongly opposed by the bills’ proponents, including the libraries and the publishers. The tactic succeeded, and the bill died in the House.

The notice of use is a burdensome requirement that will require time and resources and could significantly undermine the usefulness of the legislation. The high level of detail and documentation required is unworkable, particularly for large volumes of uses. In addition, the Copyright Office does not have the technological infrastructure nor the staff to undertake the effort proposed.

Fair Use Savings Clause

The discussion draft includes a fair use savings clause:

PRESERVATION OF OTHER RIGHTS, LIMITATIONS, AND DEFENSES— This section does not affect any right or any limitation or defense to copyright infringement, including fair use, under this title. If another provision of this title provides for a statutory license that would permit the use contemplated by the infringer, that provision applies instead of this section.

This savings clause is critical in providing assurances that users of orphan works may still rely on fair use. As was pointed out by the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), individual libraries, and other commentators, fair use jurisprudence has moved in a positive direction. Court cases that have been decided in recent years have strongly favored fair use, particularly in transformative use cases.

Analysis

The Copyright Office’s denigration of fair use as a solution to the orphan works problem is disappointing.  What the Copyright Office fails to acknowledge in its analysis of recent fair use jurisprudence is that fair use is a fairly predictable doctrine. As Professor Pamela Samuelson noted in a 2009 article entitled, Unbundling Fair Uses, “Fair use is both more coherent and more predictable than many commentators have perceived once one recognizes that fair use cases fall into common patterns.”  The Copyright Office’s suggestion that because fair use is flexible and fact-specific it is insufficient to address orphan works, is also misleading. By analogy, while the Copyright law does not have an explicit limitation or exception for the use of VCRs or DVRs, specific legislation to ensure that recording using such devices is lawful is not necessary because it is widely understood that such activity is fair use.

Furthermore, the Copyright Office suggests that even where fair use may be a defense, “many will choose to forego use of the work entirely rather than risk the prospect of expensive litigation.” The Copyright Office fails to recognize that its proposed burdensome legislation that requires extremely time and resource intensive searches as well as notice of use requirements, could also cause users to forego the use of the work. Additionally, where legislation appears overly complicated, while institutions and corporations may make use of it, individual users may find compliance difficult. The TEACH Act is one such example. The difficult and burdensome requirements of the TEACH Act have led to few, if any institutions from using it.

With respect to community best practices, it is true that they are made without consultation with rightholders, but this is a conscious decision. Community best practices “arise from the community’s values and mission. It presents a clear and conscientious articulation of the values of that community, not a compromise between those values and the competing interests of other parties.” Best practices that have been negotiated with rightholders would likely fall far short of what the law actually permits under fair use. Indeed, an effort to develop guidelines in the late 1990’s under the auspices of the USPTO failed to produce any guidance to the various communities of interest after several years of effort.  Furthermore, these best practice documents are grounded in community practices, often supported by case law, not merely aspirational documents.

As noted above, the draft legislation has significant problems including overly burdensome and complicated requirements.  The requirements for a reasonably diligent search and limitations on injunctions are highly problematic.  Finally, the notice of use provision is as poisonous now as it was in 2008.  If it is included in an orphan works provision, it will ensure that the provision is rarely, if ever, used.

House of Representatives Passes USA FREEDOM Act; Senate To Act Quickly

On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the USA FREEDOM Act, legislation that bans bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act as well as other authorities, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) pen/trap statute and national security letters (NSL) by an overwhelming majority of 338 to 88. ARL is pleased that the House of Representatives has passed stronger reform than its 2014 version and considers this development a step forward in surveillance reform.

Since 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in the practice of bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. The 2015 USA FREEDOM Act, backed by the White House, specifically addresses this issue and prohibits bulk collection, only permitting limited surveillance orders that focus on a specific selection term. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also addressed this issue recently, ruling that the NSA’s practice of bulk collection exceeded the authority under Section 215 and therefore unlawful.

The 2015 version of the USA FREEDOM Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives also includes several amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and transparency measures, representing an improvement over the version passed during the last Congress. The bill will now go to the Senate and must be considered quickly, given the upcoming expiration date of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including Section 215.

While the version passed today by the House of Representatives includes better reforms to surveillance practices than in the 2014 bill, the USA FREEDOM Act is just one step forward in a series of necessary reforms. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s recent unanimous decision that the NSA’s bulk collection practices exceeded the scope of authority granted under Section 215 demonstrates the egregiousness of the NSA’s interpretation of its authority and the willingness of FISC to approve such broad application of the law. Congress should take care to ensure that provisions under USA FREEDOM Act are not similarly interpreted in an overly-broad manner by the NSA to infringe on the privacy rights of those in the United States. ARL looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure that privacy rights are respected and hopes that additional reforms will be made.

FCC Publishes Final Net Neutrality Rule; Lawsuits to Follow

On April 13, 2015, the FCC published its final Open Internet Order governing net neutrality in the Federal Register.  The rule will become effective on June 12, 2015, 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

ARL applauded the FCC’s vote in February to reclassify broadband Internet as a common carrier under Title II, ensuring that the Internet cannot be divided into “fast lanes” and “slow lanes,” while also retaining its Section 706 authority.  The rule bans blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.  It also prohibits unreasonable interference or unreasonably disadvantaging of an end user’s ability to select and access lawful content, applications and services, or an edge provider’s ability to make such content and services available to end users, subject to reasonable network management.

Now that the final Order has been published, a 10-day clock is triggered for legal challenges to the new rules.  While two lawsuits have already been filed, they may be considered premature because they were filed before publication in the Federal Register.  It is expected that the plaintiffs in those cases will refile, along with other lawsuits.  These lawsuits will likely be consolidated and a Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation could determine, by lottery, which Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case.

In addition to these lawsuits, Congress may attempt to overturn the order through the Congressional Review Act which allows Congress to overturn an agency regulation by a majority vote in both houses of Congress within 60 days.  However, even if Congress did overturn the FCC’s Open Internet Order, the President must sign it, or Congress must overrule a veto with a two-thirds majority.  Given President Obama’s strong support for net neutrality, including for reclassification, it seems unlikely that the FCC’s Open Internet Order would be overturned in this way.

Congress might also consider overruling the FCC’s decision through legislation.  Indeed, in January 2015, a discussion draft bill was released to create a new Title X to the Communications Act to specifically deal with broadband providers.  While the draft bill would ban paid prioritization there are several concerns regarding the discussion draft, discussed in this previous blog post.

 

LCA Applauds Re-Introduction of the Unlocking Technology Act

On March 24, 2015, U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) re-introduced the bipartisan Unlocking Technology Act, a bill that would permanently allow consumers to unlock their cell phones and also allow the opening of digital locks for other legitimate uses.  LCA applauds the re-introduction of this legislation which would facilitate legitimate uses of digital media and technology.

This bill improves on the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, passed by Congress in July 2014, which renewed the previously granted exemption to allow consumers to unlock their cell phones after the Copyright Office failed to renew the cell-phone unlocking exception in its 2012 triennial rulemaking process.  The Unlocking Technology Act permanently fixes a central flaw of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which can be interpreted to allow for liability for opening a digital lock even where there is no copyright infringement.  The bipartisan bill would free non-infringing uses of digital media and technology and allow the creation and distribution of the tools necessary to facilitate such legitimate uses.

Coalition Opposes Fast Track Authority for Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP)

On Monday, March 23, 2015, 20 organizations, including the American Library Association, the Association of College & Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries, sent a letter to Congress opposing “fast-track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) due to the lack of transparency in the negotiations.  The letter urges Congress to ensure that any fast-track authority include significantly improved transparency mechanisms, including calling for a release of the negotiating text.

Although organizations have previously urged the release of the texts as a critical transparency measure, the letter notes:

Unfortunately, more than three years later, this practice has not been adopted in the context of TPP . . . talks. Indeed, the talks have gone even further underground.  Even the already insufficient process of formal stakeholder engagement at the negotiating rounds has not occurred since August of 2013, despite at least eight chief negotiators’ meetings, 16 intersessional meetings, fur ministerial-level meetings and multiple attempts to conclude the talks.  Now the need to release the text is even more urgent.

The letter also notes that

The subject matter now being negotiated extends significantly beyond tariffs and other traditional trade matters. As the United States will be obliged to bring existing and future domestic policies into compliance with the international norms established in the pact, this process would establish policies binding on future U.S. Congresses and state legislatures on numerous non-trade subjects currently under the jurisdiction of these domestic legislative bodies.

Transparency is paramount for democratic participation and process, as noted in the Library Copyright Alliance’s February 5, 2015 letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Wyden (D-OR).  The letter pointed out the importance of transparency in trade negotiations and opposed fast-track authority in the TPP with respect to the intellectual property chapter, or in the alternative, language that ensures balance in the intellectual property provisions.

Library Copyright Alliance Expresses Concerns Over “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority

On February 5, 2015, ARL, together with ALA and ACRL, sent a letter to Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Wyden (D-VT) expressing concerns over “fast track” trade promotion authority.  Under “fast track,” Congress grants the President authority to sign trade agreements and Congress is only able to approve or reject the agreement in a straight up-down vote, meaning that it cannot amend this agreement.  Such a process limits Congress’ ability to meaningfully weigh in on the agreement.

Using the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) as an example, the letter highlights the inequities surrounding access to information about the substance of the agreements.  While the negotiations are conducted in secrecy and the general public is not permitted to see text, cleared advisors are permitted to view proposals and make substantive comments through “trade advisory committees.”  Members of the intellectual property trade advisory committee represent large corporate interests; current members include, for example, representatives from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC).  Past representatives include Time Warner, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  While these corporate interests are well represented, the general public has had to rely on leaks in order to view text.  The letter points out, “Policy should not be made in secret, with the general public kept in the dark about what effects the agreement will have.”

The letter also notes concerns that the comprehensive intellectual property chapter included in the TPP could contain provision requiring changes to current law, or locking-in undesirable provisions of U.S. law which would make it difficult to amend the law without violating the agreement.  One such harmful provision is the U.S. copyright term of life plus seventy years, which was recently reported as the term of protection TPP negotiators have agreed to.  This lengthy term has been problematic, contributing to the orphan works problem and hampering the public domain.

The letter concludes:

Given the impacts that agreements like the TPP and TTIP will have, Congress should ensure that it does not delegate its authority to the Executive Branch. Congress must be an active participant in reviewing these agreements before accepting their content and should not grant fast track authority, at least with respect to intellectual property provisions in these agreements. Alternatively, if legislation on fast track does include language on intellectual property, this language must protect the careful balance that exists in US law. Libraries, and the vast public we serve, depend on a balanced copyright system, including important limitations and exceptions such as fair use and the first sale doctrine. Any language granting fast track authority implicating intellectual property must recognize the importance of limitations and exceptions.

76 Companies and Organizations Urge Congress to Ensure Privacy of Online Communications

On September 8, 2014, the Association of Research Libraries joined a broad coalition of seventy-six technology companies as well as privacy and public interest organizations in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) urging reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Both the Senate and House have considered bills to update ECPA and ensure that Fourth Amendment privacy protections extend to the online communications. The House version of ECPA reform, H.R. 1852 reached a milestone of 218 co-sponsors on June 17, 2014 representing a majority of the House and the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support. Since that date, additional co-sponsors have been added to H.R. 1852 and more than 260 Members have joined in their support of this bill. The Senate bill, S. 607, also enjoys bipartisan support and was introduced by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Lee (R-UT) and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013.

ECPA reform is necessary to ensure that the Fourth Amendment guarantees of privacy apply equally to digital information as it does to physical property. ECPA, enacted in 1986, has not kept pace with evolving technologies and allows government agencies to access online communications that are older than 180 days without obtaining a warrant, thereby affording digital information, such as that which is stored in the cloud, less protections than data stored locally in a home or office. The bills considered by Congress would require warrant-for-content, a standard that the U.S. Department of Justice already follows. Civil regulatory agencies want an exception, however, allowing the collection of content directly from third-party service providers. The letter states clear opposition to a “carve-out of regulatory agencies or other rules that would treat private data differently depending on the type of technology used to store it.”

As libraries and universities increasingly used cloud-based services and more communications take place online, ensuring that the Fourth Amendment extends to information in the digital world becomes critical. ECPA reform would avoid the current absurdity that currently affords online communications and information less protection than physical documents.