A group of senators introduced two bills yesterday which would make existing legislation more modern. Specifically as it relates to digital privacy. The Electronics Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) was introduced in 1986, and has not been updated since. I would like to note, upfront, that these bills are being introduced by both parties. Making this a bipartisan initiative. For all of those people who say that the two parties can’t work together, this is a really good example. And perhaps the model for others to follow in the future.
The first motion known as the ECPA Modernization Act, would require government agencies to get warrants in order to access emails. It would also require warrants for location data and reports from the FCC on law enforcement’s mobile data-intercepting Stingray devices. There are some stipulations to this, but they are mostly around the Wiretap Act.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has applauded the new legislation. Indicating that technology has advanced so much since 1986, but that the legislation hasn’t. Which is always an issue with government legislation and policies. Legislation just can’t keep up. It has to be written in a way that takes into consideration future technology. You’re probably thinking – how can that be done? Can the government see into the future? Not exactly, but regulations do not have to be so restrictive that they exclude the future of technology. Especially since we are in an age where technology advances by the minute. There are a lot of intelligent people in the world that could come up with wording that future proofs the legislation to allow for advancement of technology.
Legislative counsel for the ACLU, Neema Singh Guliani, states: “The proposed bill would make clear that the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement to get a warrant in order to access emails, location data, and other sensitive information. It would also ensure that the government complies with its obligation to notify individuals when their location and content information is requested.” Which is all great news. Especially in today’s age where you’re always wondering if Big Brother is watching. And with lack of trust in the current Administration, this type of legislation protects citizens more than it allows government agencies absolute power.
The second bill that is being introduced is known as the Email Privacy Act. (That acronym might get confusing for some.) This bill requires that government agencies get warrants for emails, regardless of how old the email is. In the original ECPA, authorities were not required to get a warrant if they were accessing digital correspondence that was older than 180 days. So long as the data was stored on a third-party server. Which seems kind of confusing, and maybe makes sense?
While the introduction of these bills doesn’t necessarily mean they will get passed. But it does bring awareness to an issue that many people don’t really know a lot about. It also highlights some gaps and discrepancies with the current regulations. As someone who works in government, and who deals heavily with legislation, it’s hard to keep up. A large part of my job is to review digital regulations and determine how they can be implemented. This can be extremely challenging when the regulation is outdated. Currently, we are working with legislation that came out in 2007. Our systems and technology have changed so much since then. Now imagine trying to work with regulations approved in the 80s!
I will be keeping a close on whether or not these bills become law. I think that more legislation like this need to be introduced, even if the end result isn’t a formalized bill. It keeps the dialogue open, and in this case, makes it less about politics and more about policies. Which should be the focus of most governments. Unfortunately, it’s not for today’s Administration, but that’s another topic of discussion.