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ECPA Reform Bill Proceeds to Full Senate

Today, April 25, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out of committee a bill to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).  On a voice vote, the Committee approved the ECPA Amendments Act of 2013 (S. 607) co-sponsored by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).  The bill, which has broad bi-partisan support, would require the government to obtain a warrant from a judge before gaining access to the contents of email or documents stored in the cloud.

ECPA has not been updated since its passage in1986 and currently allows government agents to read email and other online documents with a subpoena, issued without judicial approval.  The ECPA Amendments Act includes important reforms to give appropriate privacy protection to e-mail and cloud storage, which are of concern to EDUCAUSE members.

"With the vote today, Congress took a huge step toward finally updating ECPA to ensure emails and documents we store in the cloud receive the same Fourth Amendment Protections as postal mail and documents we store in desk drawers in our homes," said CDT Senior Counsel Greg Nojeim. "The bipartisan vote today shows that the time to update ECPA is now.  Never before have we seen such wide support from Republicans, Democrats, technology companies of all sizes, advocates, and the public to pass this commonsense update to ensure Constitutional privacy protections for Americans' most personal communications."

EDUCAUSE is a member of the Digital Due Process coalition (DDP), comprising associations, think tanks, technology companies, and privacy groups from across the political spectrum, which strongly supports modernizing the law. EDUCAUSE joined a coalition letter sent to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 22, 2013 urging passage of the bill.

For further information about the Committee action and the bill, see “Updating an E-Mail Law from the Last Century” in the New York Times (April 24, 2013).

The bill now heads to the full Senate for debate.  This next action will likely take place in early May.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.