It’s the part of the Constitution that keeps the government from invading your privacy for no reason. If the police, the IRS, or the FBI want to search your home, they need a good reason, and — except in emergencies — a warrant from a judge.
Court decisions and statutes often lag behind technological change. As a result, privacy can suffer. Consider the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), adopted in 1986. Under ECPA, government agencies claim they do not need a warrant to search private stuff you have stored in the cloud – email, photos, documents. This needs to stop!
Every day we read about a new government surveillance program – the NSA, the IRS, the DEA – accessing more info about your private life. We’re in a critical moment. To protect our digital privacy from government snoops, the public needs to speak up. Congress is considering legislation that would fix key flaws in ECPA. ECPA reform won’t solve everything, but it's a good start.
The Bill of Rights was intended to protect us all from unreasonable government intrusions into our lives. Nearly three decades ago, Congress recognized that the courts were not keeping up with the times, so it passed ECPA to preserve privacy rights in electronic communications. While ECPA established some critical protections, it was written in an era with no Google, no Facebook, no World Wide Web. Now, it is woefully out of date.
Right now, some government agencies claim that the Constitution does not protect the privacy of email, calendars, photos and documents stored online. ECPA provides some protections, but on its face, it says the government can read a lot of your most personal stuff without a warrant. That doesn’t make any sense and conflicts with the Fourth Amendment.
And ECPA doesn’t even address location information, so the government claims that it can track your location using your phone without ever going to a court and getting a warrant from a judge.
It is ridiculous. That is why members of Congress from both parties are sponsoring legislation to update ECPA.
With each passing day, more and more of our personal information, business documents, and communications are stored online. Almost everyone holds years’ worth of email in webmail accounts, along with calendars, private photos, drafts and many other sensitive materials. Unless we ACT NOW to urge Congress to make common sense updates to existing privacy laws, aggressive government investigators will try to access this information without a warrant.
Convinced? ACT NOW to defend online privacy! Use the tool above to call your Members of Congress and encourage them to preserve our Constitutional rights by co-sponsoring legislation to amend ECPA.
Privacy means you can be yourself. You can express ideas without fear of being unjustly punished or discriminated against. Privacy lets you live your life without pausing to think if the government is watching. Privacy keeps you safe. It's a core principle in any free society.
Online privacy is also important to American businesses that are increasingly moving sensitive information from paper files to “cloud storage” in order to compete in a rapidly changing economy. Outdated privacy laws like ECPA create uncertainty that harms the growth of small businesses. Cloud services are a $250 billion industry already, but if we don’t update privacy laws to provide online customers with the same legal protections they could get off-line, we risk losing thousands of jobs — and our ability to compete in the global marketplace.
The Fourth Amendment allows the government to conduct searches and seize evidence if it can convince a judge it has probable cause that a crime has been committed. That has been the framework for legitimate law enforcement since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, and it works well. Ensuring by law that the same protections apply to the Internet doesn’t undermine law enforcement – it strengthens it by providing clarity for officers to do their jobs with integrity.
Remember, these aren’t new rights! We are simply asking for Congress to clarify; ALL of our personal information should have the same protections regardless of how we choose to store it.
You’ve read about massive snooping by the NSA. Many groups are also working to enhance protections against national security surveillance. But here’s the shocker: For US citizens and residents at least, the rules for the NSA are actually tighter than the rules for your local police department. To read your email or obtain your documents stored online, the NSA needs an order from a judge. Under ECPA, the local police, the DEA, and the IRS have claimed they don’t need a warrant. ECPA reform would fix that.
Recent history has shown that when the Internet speaks, politicians listen. Together, we defeated SOPA-PIPA. Together, we have fended off cybersecurity legislation that would have jeopardized our privacy. Now we have another opportunity to act together to make sure that the Bill of Rights doesn’t expire as technology advances. Call your legislators now.