U.S. Senate Building

Google To Senate Committee: ECPA Needs Immediate Amendment

September 19, 2015 - Written By Kishalaya Kundu

A number of American tech companies including Google, believe the Electronics Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), established in 1986, is in desperate need of a major amendment, failing which, America’s diplomatic relations with other countries might well be in jeopardy. The law was written back in 1986, and issues a set of rules and guidelines about how and when federal and local government agencies can get warrants to have access to people personal data stored in the cloud. Technology companies believe that this piece of pre-digital-era legislation needs reform, and have testified to that effect in front of a Senate Committee in Washington on Wednesday. The way it stands now, the ECPA legally forces technology companies to part with sensitive information of private citizens, when demanded by government agencies, without the need for warrants.

Making it point to let everyone know that the Sixth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals had found clauses within the ECPA to be unconstitutional as far back as in 2010, Mr. Richard Salgado, Google’s director for law enforcement and information security, who was one of those who testified before the Senate Committee, wrote on his blog, “This pre-digital era law no longer makes sense: users expect, as they should, that the documents they store online have the same Fourth Amendment protections as they do when the government wants to enter the home to seize documents stored in a desk drawer”. Google, he said, does not hand over its user data to government agencies without valid warrants.

One of the many loopholes in the ECPA however entitles American law enforcement agencies to demand access to data regarding foreign citizens, who do not enjoy the same privacy protection as their American counterparts do; and this is exactly what’s been raising the hackles of tech companies in the US, who believe that this has already started to hurt American businesses where it matters most, especially when dealing with foreign countries. According to the testimony of Mr. Morgan Reed of the App Association, “For American tech companies to remain global leaders, we must be clear with our trading partners that their citizens can store data in their home country with a U.S. company and retain the privacy protections provided by their sovereign government”.

The one thing privacy advocates and technology companies have going for them, is that the White House under the Obama administration has already reportedly responded positively to their pleas for an immediate and complete overhaul of the archaic ECPA. On Wednesday itself, the administration endorsed a petition called “Reform ECPA: Tell the Government to Get a Warrant” on the whitehouse.gov’s ‘We The People’ platform, which was launched by the White House in 2011, allowing common citizens to petition government policy makers.