Senator Introduces Update to Key Electronic Privacy Law

By John Wagley

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation Tuesday that seeks to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Updating the law is needed, Leahy said in a statement, because of the rapid pace of technological change since the original ECPA, which Leahy authored, was introduced in 1986. The new bill aims to strengthen privacy protections surrounding the storage of electronic data, but also contains certain exceptions to assist investigations and national security.

“In the digital age, American consumers and businesses face threats to privacy like no time in history,” he said. “With the explosion of new technologies, including social networking sites, smart phones and other mobile applications, there are many new benefits to consumers. But, there are also many new risks to their privacy.”

The bill would create a single standard for law enforcement's access to e-mail and other electronic data, requiring the government to obtain a warrant with probable cause. The original ECPA had different access laws based on many factors, including whether an e-mail had been stored for 180 days. The government would also need to notify people within three days of accessing their account.


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