Senator Leahy Introduces Benchmark Bill To Update Key Digital Privacy Law

WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–May 17, 2011.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday introduced anticipated legislation to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), one of the nation’s premier digital privacy laws.  Leahy was the lead author of the 1986 law, which was enacted to protect the privacy of Americans’ electronic communications.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) Amendments Act will make commonsense changes to existing law to improve privacy protections for consumers’ electronic communications and to clarify the legal standards for the government to obtain this information.  The legislation includes enhanced privacy protections for the content of Americans’ email and other electronic communications, which would be subject to a search warrant requirement based on probable cause. The bill also includes new privacy protections for Americans’ location information that is collected, used or stored by service providers, smartphones and other mobile technologies.

“Since the Electronic Communications Privacy Act was first enacted in 1986, ECPA has been one of our nation’s premiere privacy laws,” said Leahy.  “But, today, this law is significantly outdated and out-paced by rapid changes in technology and the changing mission of our law enforcement agencies after September 11.  Updating this law to reflect the realities of our time is essential to ensuring that our federal privacy laws keep pace with new technologies and the new threats to our security.”

The Leahy-authored bill also includes a provision to enhance the cybersecurity of U.S. computer networks, by allowing service providers to voluntarily disclose content to the government that is pertinent to addressing a cyber-attack involving their computer network.  This provision includes important reporting requirements to protect privacy and civil liberties.  The bill also improves law enforcement tools, including a provision to allow the government to temporarily delay notification of its access of stored electronic communications, if notification would endanger national security. 

“The balanced reforms in this bill will help ensure that our federal privacy laws address the many dangers to personal privacy posed by the rapid advances in electronic communications technologies.  Accomplishing this challenging task will not be easy.  But, with the introduction of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act of 2011, we take a significant step towards this very important goal,” Leahy said.

While portions of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act have been amended, Congress has not enacted comprehensive reforms since the law was enacted in 1986.  Advancements in communication technologies, including smartphones and social networking sites, have outpaced the privacy protections included in the law.  The Leahy-authored ECPA Amendments Act will fill gaps in existing law and update the law to reflect how American consumers and businesses, and federal, state and local law enforcement utilize electronic communications technologies today.

Leahy is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings in September 2010 and April 2011 to explore how best to reform ECPA.